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Patient Hot Buttons in Pharma: Absurd Advertising

Series with Casey Quinlan

Absurd Advertising (Lyrica + Cymbalta for example) that make potent meds seem like something for a rainy Monday.

We in pharma have only a limited (less than 1 minute) of air time, and part of our challenge is to combine increase in awareness of something that used to be seen as “fault of the person” (i.e. depression as a character flaw, not a medical problem) with usage/safety. So it comes across as if we’re making light of the potency of med — obviously we like our meds to be potent so they get approved and look better than our competition — but we also are balancing this perception of “potency = seriousness of my condition, and I want to deny that I have a problem.” How do we improve this balance without turning off people we can truly help?

I don’t see this as a TV-only issue at all – the wide array of advertising, particularly in print and online, are in many ways both more annoying (how many pages will I have to turn in this mag before this drug ad ends?) and a huge waste of company $$ (I know that the lawyer’s chorus of massive small print is FDA-required). What’s the ROI on an ad that no one looks at?

This is true. I will look at only the 1st page of the ad and pretty much ignore the other 30 pages (I’m exaggerating, it’s a bit less than 30 pages…) but yes, pharma companies cannot print only 1 page, they’d love to, but they can’t, because of the requirement to include key data and safety information as mandated by the FDA. I think this is the FDA’s conspiracy to empty drug companies’ coffers through expensive advertising that no one looks at, which counteracts the FDA’s original intent of having patients and consumers exposed to fair balanced (safety especially) information, because no one will look at the whole ad to get the balanced picture.

continued in the COMMENTS portion — jump into the fray with us!

Updated: June 30, 2013 — 8:03 am

5 Comments

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  1. The real problem(s) here are the blockbuster-hunter mentality of the pharma C-suite, hand-in-hand with the Soviet-level of regulatory bureaucracy the FDA sprays across the land. Both are #fail. Pharma’s approach is dedicated to a disease-management model, encouraged down that path by the sick-care (NOT health-care) system in the US. The FDA keeps that cycle active by concentrating almost entirely on the “D” in their acronym, when work in the “F” zone could improve America’s diet and access to real, healthy food. As opposed to the processed un-food that Monsanto, Cargill, and ADM want to shove down our throats.

    All the $$ spent on pharma ad budgets alone, if re-directed to actually working to improve public health, would move us all toward better health. But we’re stuck with Soviet blockbusters …

  2. But pharma is doing what it is niched to do — sick-care (interventional care) — shouldn’t healthcare be in the hands of the individual patients :cough DOCTORS:?

    Since we’re in the topic of advertising and you are bringing up the blockbuster mentality, I do believe that mass advertisements whether by TV or in print is problematic although I can push for a better case for why pharma *should* advertise in print. In print, you can niche potential patient populations — for example a drug that is advertised in Cosmopolitan magazine (do they advertise there? I haven’t read Cosmo in decades) will likely reach a different target audience than an ad placed in Readers Digest Large Print edition. However, I can’t make as strong of a case for TV other than say you can trend audience segments by time of day (day time, night time, afternoons, prime time, weekdays/weekends etc.)

    So we have confounding problems of 1) not niche’ing R&D to better segmented patients and 2) not niche’ing advertisements to better segmented consumer audiences.

    Take the “restless leg syndrome” ads whose sponsor shall remain unnamed. I can take the position that — if there is a rare disease then it is rarer still that physicians will bring it up to the patients, so mass ads like TV may increase awareness to patients who otherwise may miss the condition. On the other hand, I can also say “really, how many people suffer from this, so why are you advertising to millions unless you are ‘disease-mongering’?”

    I can’t make up my mind.

  3. But pharma is doing what it is niched to do — sick-care (interventional care) — shouldn’t healthcare be in the hands of the individual patients :cough DOCTORS:?

    Since we’re in the topic of advertising and you are bringing up the blockbuster mentality, I do believe that mass advertisements whether by TV or in print is problematic although I can push for a better case for why pharma *should* advertise in print. In print, you can niche potential patient populations — for example a drug that is advertised in Cosmopolitan magazine (do they advertise there? I haven’t read Cosmo in decades) will likely reach a different target audience than an ad placed in Readers Digest Large Print edition. However, I can’t make as strong of a case for TV other than say you can trend audience segments by time of day (day time, night time, afternoons, prime time, weekdays/weekends etc.)

    So we have confounding problems of 1) not niche’ing R&D to better segmented patients and 2) not niche’ing advertisements to better segmented consumer audiences.

    Take the “restless leg syndrome” ads whose sponsor shall remain unnamed. I can take the position that — if there is a rare disease then it is rarer still that physicians will bring it up to the patients, so mass ads like TV may increase awareness to patients who otherwise may miss the condition. On the other hand, I can also say “really, how many people suffer from this, so why are you advertising to millions unless you are ‘disease-mongering’?”

    I can’t make up my mind.

  4. We are all patients. Even the doctors are patients, although some don’t realize it until they’re naked in another MD’s office.

    In re the advertising issue, the relentless “ask your doctor about [whatever]” push is hypochondria-inducing at least. Restless leg syndrome? Really? I call bullshit on that whole campaign.

    Blockbuster-izing is brought about by the shareholder-value mentality. I know that pharma is a business, but shouldn’t the first principle be “are we helping?” vs. “how many millions can we make off this?” That blockbuster chase has the industry pushing [who knows how many brands of] birth control pills in Cosmo (yes, there’s PLENTY of pharma in Cosmo: anti-depressants, birth control, anti-anxiety, diabetes control, and more), and in every other print outlet from sea to shining sea. And on broadcast, and online.

    I’d like to ask my doctor about how I could get a pill that would ad-block pharma. Now *that* would be a blockbuster.

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