The Assault on DTC TV Advertising

The Super Bowl was once again used as a sponsor of several DTC ads, which led to calls for a ban on DTC TV advertising. The media jumped on the bandwagon with articles saying that drug company marketing is one of the reasons for high drug prices—and all this attention in an election year could lead to a ban on drug company ads, although unlikely.

I don’t think I need to go into detail about the benefits of DTC advertising. However, the media must believe that consumers are going to see a drug ad and run to their doctor to ask for a prescription. That’s not happening.

The Bad—and the Good—News

I just finished leading a major quantitative study on how consumers view DTC TV ads and the results clearly show that changes are needed. The bad news is that most consumers don’t like DTC TV ads. But the good news is that once an ad sparks their interest, consumers do more research online before even thinking of asking their healthcare professional about the drug. In addition, continued research shows that doctors will write a prescription based on what’s best for their patients—not because a patient asked for it.

DTC marketers continue to invest heavily in TV, but they may be wasting money. TV provides great awareness, but there is still a disconnect among healthcare consumers between awareness and taking action. For them, taking action means going online, which includes going on social media as well as health portals and drug company websites. The research findings from my quantitative research clearly show that sites are not meeting the needs of online health seekers. These lack clear, easy-to-understand content and don’t include the “quality of life” content that many patients want and need.

DTC marketers should be measuring effective reach on a regular basis and cutting TV to “pull” patients into the brand. How? It depends on the health category, but the Internet is probably the best place to start. All drug websites tend to use the same template—and that turns patients off. We need to get out more and ask consumers, “What do you want to see online to get you to consider our product?” Too often that research is not being done.

The other mistake lies in thinking that high traffic to your website leads to action. It doesn’t. Click stream analysis shows that online health seekers are fact checking your sales claims and, when taken all together, they are deciding if your product is right for them. It doesn’t have to be true because people don’t read lengthy content—they read headlines and key points.

TV is not the answer to DTC marketing excellence. What’s needed is an in-depth map of the patient journey from awareness through compliance and ensuring that your communications are in the areas they are going to get information. More TV is not going to provide the best ROI—so measure your ads and think like a patient to ask “where would I go to get the information I need?”

  • 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.