Why TV will remain the first priority for DTC


-TV will continue to dominate DTC spend due to online ad fraud and fraud at point-of-care.

-While only 7% of viewers have asked their doctor about advertised medications TV still generates high awareness.

-TV ads are meant to drive people online, but pharma is dropping the ball with the connection between awareness and conversion.

-Blame lies with DTC marketers who want to “show that they are doing something” and agencies which are great at patting themselves on the back for DTC spots.

In a piece called “pharma DTC ads should die a quick death” author Vince Parry says:

  • TV is foremost an entertainment medium. Viewers are naturally tuned in to laugh or cry over a host of subjects featured in sitcoms, sporting events, movies or dramas. When people watch TV, they don’t wish to be educated much less reminded of all the ills facing them in the world
  • Half a minute or even a minute is not enough time to present any kind of meaningful story about a pharma brand on TV.
  • Drug brand identities must appeal to the doctor as well because the regulated transaction model in healthcare cannot promote a drug purchase by the end user, but rather should promote a dialogue between doctor and patient. TV ads that whisper in patients’ ears behind a doctor’s back only antagonize the relationship.

So let’s look at these arguments one-by -one..

1ne: TV ads are meant to entertain they are meant to drive action.  Unlike ads for some products pharma DTC ads are meant to drive awareness of new treatments.  Ads, for example, for new immune system, oncology drugs are driving patients to ask oncologists about new treatments while new diabetes treatments , that have weight loss as a benefit, are also driving people into doctor’s offices.

2wo: “Present a meaningful story”?  People don’t need a story, they want a product that works for them.

3hree: The doctor is still the gatekeeper when it comes to prescribing drugs.  The vast majority of patients will go with the recommended Rx’s as prescribed by their doctor and insurance company.

Why TV?

Advertising has always been 90% lousy, but online advertising has set a new standard for awfulness.  Modern marketing is operating under the delusion that consumers want to interact with brands, and have relationships with brands, and have brand experiences, and engage with them, and co-create with them.

In addition, online ad fraud is a real problem. [inlinetweet prefix=”” tweeter=”” suffix=””]The Wall Street Journal that reported on a study by comScore which found that 54% of display ads paid for by advertisers were never seen by a live human being[/inlinetweet].  One bot-net can generate 1 billion fraudulent digital ad impressions a day.[inlinetweet prefix=”” tweeter=”” suffix=””] Half of all U.S online advertising – $10 billion a year – may be lost to fraud.[/inlinetweet]

Here’s what this author doesn’t understand about DTC advertising. He thinks you can advertise today and measure the results tomorrow. It doesn’t work that way for prescription drugs. If you’re not used to running, and you run 5 miles today, you will not be stronger or healthier or feel better tomorrow. As a matter of fact, you’ll probably feel like crap. But if you run 5 miles every day, next year you probably will be stronger, and healthier, and feel better.  DTC ads, via TV , work much in the same way so that when patients finally see their doctor they can ask about an advertised drug.

Where pharma is really losing the battle, however, is via their websites. Most pharma websites are horrible, are not really tested for usability and do not provide answers that online health seekers are looking for.

We have tried to get clients to put money into the development of their product website via a great process but alas TV takes the money away.  DTC managers are always going to be in love with TV and agencies are always going to push TV.  Sure, the creative is horrible, but as long as agencies and DTC people get awards for their efforts it will remain lousy.