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Branded vs Unbranded Media Buying Dynamics

For many pharmaceutical or biologic brands considering DTC advertising, the pursuit of either a branded or unbranded campaign is a critical decision.  The best approach can be determined by focusing on several specific factors: the extent to which patients with the disease remain undiagnosed, the amount of fair balance the product requires in a branded ad, and the current market share of the product.

Unbranded efforts often take the form of “disease awareness” campaigns which are designed to drive new patient diagnoses by educating patients about symptoms.  Logically, these campaigns are more effective for disease states where a high proportion of prevalent patients remain undiagnosed.

Unbranded campaigns do not require the presence of fair balance, and therefore offer a more efficient media buy since 30-second or even 15-second commercials can get the job done.  Of course, without the presence of a brand name, patients who are motivated to take action by an unbranded ad are unlikely to request a specific drug by name when speaking with a physician.

If treatment does occur as a result of a discussion generated by an unbranded campaign, physicians will most likely prescribe according to the “fair share” of each product in the market.  So, if your drug has a 10% market share, patients activated by an unbranded campaign will only receive your drug 10% of the time.  If a competitive drug has a 30% market share, your unbranded campaign will benefit your competitor more than your own product.

In contrast, branded DTC advertising creates specific patient awareness of your brand name and indication.  Fair balance must be included.  In the current regulatory climate, the required fair balance can often consume 30 seconds (or more!) of air time, meaning that a commercial length of 90 or even 120 seconds is necessary in order to make room for positive selling messages in addition to the fair balance.

A physician discussion generated by a branded campaign will be more likely to produce a prescription for your product, since (hopefully) patients will mention your brand name and cue the physician to prescribe it.  Branded advertising can be especially effective in situations where the disease isn’t especially serious, such as so-called “lifestyle drugs” like erectile dysfunction medications or treatments for mild dermatological conditions.  In these situations, physicians possess minimal risk in prescribing one product over another, and are more inclined to give patients what they want, resulting in a higher physician “grant rate.”

The perfect candidate for an unbranded campaign is a product with strong market share, onerous fair balance requirements, and a high proportion of prevalent yet undiagnosed patients with the disease.  Branded DTC works well for drugs with more minimal fair balance, those that may not enjoy strong ingoing market share, and those where physician “grant rate” is strong due to the less serious nature of the condition.

Many products fall into a grey area where the decision to pursue branded versus unbranded DTC is not quite so obvious.  Beyond the basic consideration of the factors outlined above, quantitative analytical methods are available to provide a more detailed assessment of the relative utility of branded versus unbranded DTC.  These techniques combine primary quantitative survey research among patients and physicians with mathematical models for predicting DTC ROI, and are recommended for situations where rigorous scrutiny needs to be applied to the selection of the appropriate campaign.

Fred Church
Director, US Healthcare at SKIM
Fred is the Director of the US Healthcare team at SKIM, based in our Hoboken, NJ office. He has forecasted the sales impact and return-on-investment for hundreds of pharmaceutical DTC campaigns, and is a frequent conference speaker on this topic. His other areas of healthcare research expertise include concept testing, communications optimization, and market modeling.
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