DTC’s Love Affair with TV is Irrational

Numerous studies have shown that DTC TV spots are less than 20% effective in driving patients into their doctor’s office to ask for the product, yet DTC marketers continue to allocate the biggest part of their budgets to TV spots. It’s hard to understand why so much money goes into a channel that is the least effective—but there is plenty of blame to go around.

Today, more than ever, TV drives awareness but the Internet drives conversion. The belief that your target audience is going to see your ad on TV and run to their doctor to ask about the product is myopic and doesn’t reflect reality. Healthcare consumers are being forced to go online to learn about treatment options and determine if their insurance coverage will cover more expensive branded products. The trip between awareness of new treatments and filling a new prescription is a long one filled with a lot of interruptions from competitors, other patients, and shallow media stories.

In the early days of DTC marketing, TV was a key driver in maximizing business objectives. Then two things happened that changed all that. First, pharma became addicted to mega growth products and was always looking for the next huge blockbuster to keep their stock price high. Second, the ACA, coupled with the increased penetration of the Internet meant that anyone at any time could obtain health information online and become more involved in treatment decisions.

Web Shows More Muscle Than TV

Today, I could make a strong argument that the Internet is more influential in determining the success of DTC marketing than any TV spot. TV might make them aware of your product, but you can bet the farm that your audience is going to go online to determine if they want to start down that long path towards asking for, and getting your brand.

Digital marketing today does have its problems. It’s estimated that over 40% of all online ad metrics are the result of fraud, and programmatic online ad buying algorithms are far from perfect for pharmaceutical products. However, the one thing that DTC marketers can, and should, do is ensure that their product website provides a great resource for your audience(s).

Your website should not be designed by an agency in a vacuum. The design should be started long before approval of your product and include research with your target audience as well as testing of wireframes and content ideas. In this aspect, most pharma companies are failing. High bounce rates continue to indicate that pharma websites are not doing the job of getting patients to go deep into your site. Click stream analysis continues to show that online health seekers are coming from and going to a variety of online health resources before making that decision to ask their doctor about your product.

There is a serious disconnect between awareness and conversion within pharma. Savvy marketers are going to spend more money to develop, launch, and optimize product websites while self-promotional marketers are going to continue to waste money on TV.

  • Richard Meyer

    Richard Meyer has worked in healthcare marketing for more than 12 years and is the author of www.worldof dtcmarketing.com and www.newmediaand marketing.com. He is the Director of Online Strategic Solutions.


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