Why DTC drug marketing still clings to TV

Top of mind positioning has been replaced with top of page positioning.  The old ad model of informing, persuading and reminding are being replaced by involvement, community and empowerment.  So why are the nightly network newscasts still being subsidized by drug direct to consumer (DTC) ads?

From all the latest research that I have done, coupled with the research from other sources like Manhattan Research, Pew and Rodale, it’s quite clear that consumers are paying less and less attention to DTC commercials.

If insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results than a lot of DTC marketing people are in need of long vacations.

So why are we seeing the DTC marketing model evolve at the speed of dark?

1. Risk adverse. This is perhaps the biggest reason that pharma marketers do not innovate.  Their legal and regulatory teams have put up titanium walls that can’t be crossed or climbed.   Do what is safe, we don’t want to risk the wrath of the FDA.

2. DTC TV ads work. Yeah and there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.  Too many DTC marketers are in love with TV and they work with market research people to produce nice looking PowerPoints that show to clueless executives that TV is providing an ROI.

3. One agency cannot do it all. Offline ad agencies have been buying digital shops left and right but the problem is that once these shops are purchased the people who made them great often leave because they don’t like the big agency models that are outdated. One person who recently left a shop acquired by Ogilvy told me “they are still using terms like CPM and reach. Can you believe that?”  The truth is that you should be using a good digital shop because they have expertise in healthcare online marketing, because they can turn things around quickly and because they are cost effective.

4. Digital costs how much? It’s amazing that DTC marketers will spend hundreds of dollars to test messages and TV spots and waste a lot of money on search marketing but when it comes to a really good digital integrated strategy the emarketing people are usually fighting for leftovers.  It’s more amazing because digital is more effective than any other channel in influencing consumer healthcare choices.  Digital needs to move to the front of the line when it comes to strategy and dollars and the idea that “we just need to build a website” is dated ands shows that marketers don’t understand the channel.

5. Talent. Perhaps the biggest challenge facing all of healthcare marketing is the lack of real Internet marketing talent.  I’m talking about people who can bridge business objectives with online health seekers needs and use great tools to show that digital strategies are providing a good ROI.  One person per brand team is not enough and in fact we are seeing that consumer packaged goods companies are ramping up their digital marketing departments at a time when a career in pharma is not highly desirable.  And people that are “social pharma” but don’t produce any results are about as useful as a glass of water on a sinking ship.

The ongoing research that I am leading for a client clearly shows that consumers could care less about pharma advertising and marketing.  They have other more credible sources of information and frankly they have moved on.  If pharma is ever to catch up they need to innovate and do it quickly.  Speed is a competitive advantage.

Richard Meyer is Executive Director/Principal at Online Strategic Solutions and blogs at World of DTC Marketing.com.

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