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Bob Ehrlich’s blog on blogs – August 19, 2008

John Mack in his Pharma Marketing Blog of 8/14 wrote an interesting piece called Rethinking the Value of DTC Advertising . Mack says that the numbers of patients who visit and ask doctors about advertised drugs is very low. Therefore, he wonders how the expenditures can pay back on this low a number of patient Rx starts from DTC. He believes the payback comes from increased compliance as current users are reminded to stay on a drug. Mack is partly correct. DTC ROI comes from a combination of both new starts and compliance reminders. The average ROI is 2 to 1 and that does not require a large number of new patient starts. Mack sites a 6% rate of patient visits scheduled because of DTC. It only takes about a third of those to get a branded drug to payback. The compliance portion is probably the minority of the benefit.

In Jim Edwards’ Brandweek blog of 7/29, his post is called Drug Marketing Poised For Historic Decline . Edwards’ pessimistic call is based on decreased drug pipelines and a more conservative FDA slowing the approval of new drugs. He thinks television will be the medium most hurt. Edwards looks for declines through 2011. Spending was down in 1Q 2008 by about 3%, so Edwards is likely right about 2008 being a down year. Drug companies are looking to cut expenses through headcount reductions and spending cuts. I doubt we will see dramatic declines in DTC spending, but 5-8% for 2008 and annually through 2011 is not out of the question. I do not see this change in attitude about the effectiveness of DTC, but merely a reaction to profit needs short term.

Edwards also wrote a piece for Adweek on 8/15 , citing a decline in creative effectiveness of recent DTC ads. His source is a Nielsen IAG study showing DTC ads are less memorable this year. The cause is cited as some of the most memorable ads in 2007 were pulled because of publicity or sales issues. Pfizer pulled the Jarvik ads, Rozarem’s Lincoln spending was cut way back because of slower sales, Vytorin’s food and people ads were pulled because of clinical study issues. Fariba Zamaniyan of Nieslen IAG said increased attention of the FDA could cause more conservative creative approaches. The standard vignette approach of older people could be less memorable.

Niko Karvounis blogged a critical column on AlterNet.org on 8/11 called How Big Pharma is Fooling You With Junk Science . The 3 page blog criticizes drug companies for using misleading spin over science in marketing their drugs. His point is that drug companies will spin results to convince consumers and doctors that drugs are more effective than they really are. Karvounis does not comment on the fact that the FDA reviews all ad claims and detail pieces, and they must contain only label claims. Of course drug companies try to position all ad claims with a positive spin, but it still must be accurate.

In Multinational Monitor’s July/Aug issue , Melody Petersen, author of Our Daily Meds is interviewed. The book is highly critical of drug company marketing. Ms. Petersen says “drug companies have learned to use science as a marketing tool.” She cites DTC as trading in “fear about a disease.” She says drug ads sell “youth and happiness and friends and beauty and sex.” This book is similar to many recent books hammering industry marketing. It is different in that it focuses on marketing practices. Ms. Petersen talks like the industry can say anything it wants. The FDA does ensure fair balance in ads despite Ms. Petersen’s assertions. She is right – there are abuses, but vastly overstates them.

In the anti-drug industry state of Vermont , Representative Harry Chen writes a blog in the Rutland Herald on 7/24 about undue influence of drug companies. Chen is also a physician and feels doctors take too much cash and merchandise from drug companies. He also is critical of their learning about drugs mostly from drug reps. Chen gets his drug information from an unbiased source, The University of Vermont, funded by the state. He cites Vermont as being a leader in regulating drug company marketing. Chen’s column is instructive in that a new Congress could adopt many of its techniques to clamp down on drug company marketing.

A blog in the Fay Observer on 8/17 was critical of DTC ads on the Olympics. David Work, ex-director of the North Carolina Board of Pharmacy, says he saw many DTC ads. He is concerned that we monitor athletes for drug use, but then advertise drugs on the coverage. He says promotion of drugs during the Olympics is irresponsible. I can understand his concerns if the ads were for performance enhancing subst
ances, but they were for sleep aids. I think he is stretching the issue that somehow advertising prescription sleep aid drugs will send the wrong signal to impressionable young viewers about drug use.

Ok, I do not have all anti-drug news. The Times, London Times that is, had a blog on 8/18 by Stephen Pollard called Drug Companies are a Boon, Not Our Enemies . Pollard runs a think-tank in Brussels and proudly admits to getting funding from big pharma companies. He chides governments for criticizing drug companies for making excessive profits. He smartly points out that government controlled science does not usually produce new drugs. “In all of the Soviet Union’s existence… not one discovery was made that scientists in the free world considered using.” Pollard cites the high costs of R&D and risks as a reason not to decry profits. It is good to see The Times give the pro-drug industry argument some space.

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