Merck Doing it Right
“Merck has tremendous upside running these ads.”
I really like the Merck shingles ads. They have been on-air for about a year and I apologize for the delayed reaction. I had shingles in my 30’s for a brief time. Just a few pimple like things on my chest but they hurt intensely. I see the online pictures of major shingles outbreaks and I shudder to think what they must feel like. Last year I decided to get the vaccine which Merck markets called Zostavax. The vaccine is not 100% effective but should lessen the chance of me getting it again. It reduces incidence by 51% among the 60 plus age group.
Merck’s non-branded awareness campaign on shingles is designed to let consumers know what it is and how painful it can be. They have a version with a man and another with a woman both looking in their late 60’s. Needless to say I was sufficiently scared by the ads into getting the vaccine, and gladly paid the $200 or so out of pocket to get it.
What surprises me is how few seniors have gotten the vaccine. The London School of Hygiene studied U.S. Medicare records and found only 4% of seniors received the vaccine. What is more alarming is how low the percentage is among African-Americans and low income seniors at far less than 1% for each group.
Shingles itself goes away but can leave a more serious condition in its wake called post herpetic neuralgia. This is debilitating chronic pain which affects 20% of people getting shingles. The vaccine reduces these complications by 66%.
Merck has tremendous upside running these ads. With only 4% receiving the vaccine, that leaves a lot of potential customers out there. These non-branded ads should provide the motivation for all seniors to ask doctors if they should get the vaccine. There are also many people in their 50’s who may want to consider it even though it may not be covered by insurance. FDA approved the vaccine for this age group two years ago. I would pay a lot more than $200 to avoid the intense pain of shingles. The more seniors and baby boomers understand the risks and complications of shingles, the more likely they will seek medical advice.
Merck has shown the value of disease awareness ads with this campaign. Shingles is real, potentially devastating, and costly to treat if it occurs. I am sure these ads are getting a positive ROI given that most doctors do support increased use. There are some DTC ads which get criticized for being for invented conditions. Fortunately, shingles is not one of them.
Bob Ehrlich, Chairman
DTC Perspectives, Inc.