What is the future of DTC?


  • DTC TV ad spending is flat and probably will be declining in 2020.
  • Various research concludes that TV, alone, does not drive new Rx’s.
  • Pharma product websites continue to be underutilized.
  • TV ads, in general, are ineffective in driving demand for products.

Only about 25% of this year’s Cannes Lion award-winning ads provided actual brand impact meaning the ads did not effectively generate brand sales. How are pharma DTC ads going to drive demand when people have such a dim view of pharma companies?

It’s important to understand that although people have a pessimistic view of pharma they know that the drugs they produce help them live longer and more productive lives. They are angry at rising drug prices which has been highlighted by the media because of a couple of bad decisions to put shareholders above patients.

So is TV really important?

The answer depends on your brand objectives. A new drug can gain a lot of awareness via a TV blitz but just because a commercial garner’s views does not mean there is brand impact. Capturing impressions is not the same as creating an impact. An impression is just a media unit. It has a cost. It can be viewed or heard. But viewing is not a substitute or synonym for impact.

Understanding how your audience decides to go ask for/go on your product

DTC teams do a lot of research on message development but not that much on laying out a decision tree on how people decide to ask about your product.

Does your audience, for example, turn to the internet and if so where are they going? More than likely they are going online but what sites actually influence them?

I have found that social media is becoming more important as people trust other patients rather than DTC materials. The good news is that they are using pharma websites but the downside is that bounce rates and time on site are usually poor.

Why isn’t pharma becoming more digital savvy?

Pharma is allocating more money to digital but it’s not being spent on the right things. Digital marketing is like an iceberg; you only see a small part of what you have invested in the larger part, research and developing a great online experience, remains hidden.

Pharma product websites are designed to do one thing: sell, and that’s costing them business. Consumers today don’t want to be sold they want good, clear, concise health information with links to so they can spend less time researching health conditions.

Usually, DTC budgets are based on brand sales as a percentage of sales. DTC managers can allocate the money as they see fit and TV is a great bullet point on resumes. A lot of DTC people are also good at connecting the dots between TV ads and new Rx’s even though a savvy marketer would ask more questions.

With pressure on pharma regarding prices DTC budgets are going to come under more scrutiny. For some reason, too many believe that digital means spending less money and that’s a huge mistake. The future of DTC is helping patients help themselves rather than trying to sell them.