GSK Uses DTC To Compete in the COPD Market

If you watch the national news you have probably seen the commercials for COPD products. The National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI) estimates that nearly 27 million people in the U.S. alone are affected by COPD. The majority of people who suffer from COPD are over the age of 50. Now GSK has a COPD product to compete in this market and it is going to rely on DTC marketing to reach this market.

GSK’s campaign is designed to raise awareness about the new treatment option for COPD that improves airflow for a full 24 hours and reduces the number of future flare-ups with one daily dose. Also, the company wants to encourage patients with COPD to talk to their doctor, learn more about their condition, and ask whether its product, the Breo Ellipta, may be an appropriate treatment option.

The campaign uses a unique mnemonic device that plays on the coincidence that both COPD and BREO have four letters. The characters in the ad also have four-letter names. The repetition of the four letters strongly cues the category of COPD, which makes it stand out from other DTC ads for other medical conditions targeted to this age group. The repetition of B-R-E-O helps ensure strong branding.

This is a fully integrated direct-to-consumer campaign that includes TV, magazine and Internet advertisements, patient brochures and other advertisements found in doctors’ offices. In addition, GSK is offering discount vouchers via its website. Patients can visit where they can find out if they are eligible to get their first prescription free, or save on refills.

Will they succeed in cutting through the clutter? My guess is yes. Rather than spending a lot of money for increased frequency, GSK seems to be following the new pattern of smart DTC marketers—to spend less money, but highly target its audience. In fact, I could make an argument that a DTC brand has finally learned the definition of effective reach.

What I really like about this campaign is that GSK is using a push-pull DTC marketing program. The company is informing consumers about a new product and, understanding that consumers are probably going to go to the web to learn more, offering a coupon to generate trial. This push-pull technique acknowledges that patients are consumers of healthcare and are most likely going to go online to gather more information.

Is push and pull marketing the future of DTC marketing?  It really depends on the health condition and characteristics of each market segment. While there are medications that don’t warrant a lot of online research, other products are researched by patients who want to know about the medication and its side effects. Today patients are more concerned about medication side effects as they are related to quality of life issues. In addition, insurers are also recommending cheaper generic alternatives.

With shrinking budgets due to the pressure on pharma balance sheets, my guess is that DTC marketers are going to have to become a lot smarter about how their dollars are spent. This means more emphasis on patient touch points as well as anticipating where patients are going to go to decide if products are right for them.


  • Richard Meyer

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


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