Friday, January 27, 2006

Gifts That Keep on Giving


I must admit that I am a little creeped out every time I visit my primary care physician. It's not that she's obese and therefore is a bad role model for me. It's how cluttered her office is with pharmaceutical company trinkets such as note pads, pens, wall charts, etc. More often than not, there's a pharmaceutical sales rep or two sitting in the waiting room or trying to blend into the wall paper as they wait for the doctor to give them a minute or two.


It is at these times that the advice from Marcia Angell, MD, former editor in chief of The New England Journal of Medicine, and author of the book The Truth About the Drug Companies (
see review) comes to mind. She urges readers to ask their doctors this question: "Do you make time for visits from drug company representatives?" If the answer is yes, Angell says you should consider changing doctors.

Despite my doctor's obesity and proclivity to accept pizza from pharma sales reps, I am not considering changing doctors. After all, she has been known to have literally saved the lives of at least two people in my town -- one of them a neighbor and friend of mine. I also think she was as helpful as my cardiologist in lowering my cardiovascular risk factors (and she didn't even prescribe any brand drug!).


You can understand, therefore, why I am a little bit ambivalent about claims that pharma gifts to physicians have a negative impact on patient outcomes. That is one of the claims made by "a group of influential doctors" in a recent article in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA; see the story in the NY Times: "
Doctors Urge Ban on Gifts From Drug Makers").
What do you think? Take Pharma Marketing Network's online Pharma Gifts to Physicians Survey.
The authors cite the following types of gifts that they wish banned: meals; payment for attendance at lectures and conferences, including online activities; CME for which physicians pay no fee; payment for time while attending meetings; payment for travel to meetings or scholarships to attend meetings; payment for participation in speakers bureaus; the provision of ghostwriting services; provision of pharmaceutical samples; grants for research projects; and payment for consulting relationships.

What would the world look like if pharma gifts (free lunches, etc.) to physicians were banned? [Of course, even the authors realize that "ban" is slightly too autocratic; as one author remarked, "It's a free country."]


According to the authors, such a "ban" would cure all that ails the delivery of healthcare in the US. For one thing, physician decisions would become more "evidence-based" and result in better patient outcomes. From what I have been hearing, evidence-based medicine is not embraced by many physicians for a variety of reasons and none have to do with pharma gift giving. For example, whose evidence is it? How good is the evidence? How long does it take this evidence to filter down to the practitioner in the form of guidelines? What about creativity and knowing when to apply new solutions?


The problem with pharma marketing to physicians is that it combines gift-giving with a hard-sell approach. Often, the sales rep does not or cannot deliver any useful, believable evidence-based information to doctors. "Docs shouldn't make any time to see reps unless they have something new to say," says Richard Vanderveer, Pharma Marketing News
Advisory Board member. "And industry executives should stop running to conferences on improving physician access and should think more about how rep visits can be more valuable to docs."

Drug Samples
The other target of the authors is the provision of free drug samples to (certain) physicians. Samples undoubtedly are an effective means of gaining access to physicians (see, for example, "
Intelligent Online Sampling Strategies"). Why? Because physicians want them and find samples useful to get patients started on treatment and even depend on samples to treat patients that can't afford the medication. [BTW, who knows what will happen to sample giving once Medicare Part D gets into full swing.]

The proliferation of free drug samples as a physician access tool is a sad testimony to the failure of physician marketing in general. So, I am not totally in favor of free samples, nor do I favor an outright ban. I see the benefit, but drug companies need to wean themselves away from this door-opener gift to physicians and think of new ways to gain access.


Research Grants
The authors go to great pains to carve out from their "ban" the biggest gift of all: research grants to physicians, especially physicians at academic medical centers (AMC's). That gift should keep on coming, according to the authors, BUT money should go the AMC to administer and allocate to deserving faculty; grants to individual physicians should not be made, according to the authors.


Never mind that this would turn the academic grant machine on its head, but I think it could stifle academic freedom as well. Would faculty critical of an AMC's policy on abortion, for example, get less or more of the grant pie do you suppose? Also, what pharma company in its right mind would fund research not tied to its own products? Get real!

BTW, I've seen firsthand the clout that pharma research grants have at AMC's. Some pharma companies threatened to without grants to medical schools in Texas if the state passed a medical privacy act that would greatly restrict pharmaceutical marketing in Texas. It was amazing how fast AMC's joined Pharma's effort to amend the law and save their grants! I could imagine the same thing happening should AMC's impose a sweeping ban on gifts to students and physicians as the JAMA authors propose.
Take the Survey
The authors have some good points to make about other types of gifts. There's enough fodder there for at least 3 or 4 other posts to this blog! But before I venture into that, I would like to have your opinion on the issue of pharma gifts to physicians. Therefore, I ask you to complete the online
Pharma Gifts to Physicians Survey. If you have interesting comments and give me permission, I will include them in a future post.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Challenges Ahead for Pharma

As regular readers of this blog may know, Pharma Marketing Network recently surveyed readers of Pharma Marketing News and visitors to its Web site about trends likely to affect the pharmaceutical industry in 2006. Respondents could answer highly unlikely, somewhat unlikely, somewhat likely, or highly likely. The aggregated results from 84 respondents are summarized in the FIGURE below.


Trends 2006
I also tapped the brains of several industry experts during a recent
Pharma Marketing Roundtable discussion of these issues. This discussion was summarized in the January issue of Pharma Marketing News (see "Pharma Trends to Watch in 2006"; free subscription or reprint fee required). A few pearls of wisdom are excerpted below.


Increase in Generic Competition

As consumers begin to pay more in co-pays for branded drugs, pharmaceutical brand marketers will be under pressure to communicate compelling reasons for them to pay a premium for brand products. "With the advent of consumer-directed healthcare, you have to convince the consumer that paying $50 for Lipitor vs. the cheaper generic version is worth it," said Jack Barrette,
Pharma Marketing Roundtable member and Category Development Officer at Yahoo!


Brand Differentiation

What I had in mind when I created the survey was not the problem of conveying distinctive brand messages to convince consumers to purchase the brand rather than the generic, but distinguishing your brand from the competitor's "me-too" brand. Take, for example, Viagra vs. Levitra vs. Cialis. Right now, I am finding it difficult to recall which brand -- Viagra or Levitra -- is promoting "Make the Call" vs. "Strike Up A Conversation." However, I do get the Cialis message: 36 hours, 36 hours, 36 hours!


FDA Regulation of DTC: To Be or Not To Be?

"The Bush administration is overextended with regard to political capital and it has to cut down the number of fronts itÂ’s fighting on," said Mario Cavallini, Pharma Marketing Roundtable and Manager, Competitive Intelligence at SimStar. "One of these is the battle of Bush appointees against government agency (e.g., FDA) professional staffers. Consequently, thereÂ’s going to be a truce, at least until the end of mid-term elections."


New Directions: Alternative Media

Nearly two-thirds (61%) of survey respondents felt that there would be cuts in DTC ad spending in 2006 and 58% felt there would be less DTC on TV. Roundtable experts suggested that there would be a re-allocation of where DTC money is spent, not a dramatic cutback across the board. "I think that the channel spend is going to change," said Vince DeChellis,
Pharma Marketing Roundtable member and an independent healthcare consultant. "Medical communication, for example, is going virtual."

Read more...

Thursday, January 19, 2006

The End of DTC as We Have Known It

Almost a year ago to the day—just a week or so after launching Pharma Marketing Blog—I warned that DTC advertising must change if it is to survive ("The End of DTC as We Know It". And change it has…knock on wood!

Back in January and earlier, I complained that DTC ads were not educational despite claims to the contrary by the industry. I cited erectile dysfunction (ED) drug ads as examples. Here’s what I said: “Nowhere in any ED ad have I seen any information about what ED is, what the symptoms might be, and who is likely to suffer from it.”


Now there are unbranded ads on TV that actually talk about the medical conditions that may cause ED—diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol. Imagine that!


A year ago I complained that pharma marketers were underutilizing information-rich channels such as the Internet. “Not enough effort or money,” I said back then, “is spent to foster the synergy between DTC broadcast ads and the Internet. DTC ads focus on what may be a giant step for many people—go see your doctor. They don't emphasize enough an intermediate step—i.e., go to a website to learn more about the condition, the treatment options and find motivational tools.”


Now we have www.mensfacts.com and other unbranded disease information sites that consumers are directed to via DTC ads. If you believe Yahoo!’s Jack Barrette, 2006 will be a big year for DTC on the Internet (see “Pharma Trends to Watch in 2006”).


Back in June, 2005, I complained about print DTC ads that were creative with regard to presenting benefits but written in legalese mouse text when presenting the vital facts (see "Future of Drug Print Ads"). I suggested that drug companies prevent their lawyers from writing the patient package insert stuff.


Now we have Lipitor print ads with large type both front AND back! In fact, Pfizer’s new patient-friendly labeling information is almost as easy to read and understand as the as copy! Who could have imagined this?


Back in March, 2005, I suggested that more DTC ads should use doctors and doctor-patient communication scenarios to convey the marketing message (see "DTC Straight Talk"). “Drugs are serious products and require a doctor to close the sale,” I said. “It makes perfect sense, therefore, to include doctors within the DTC ads to communicate risks.”


Now we have plenty of DTC ads with doctors and actors playing doctors. This might be one of those wishes that should have been better thought through. There are doctors everywhere now! I’ve seen them in TV and print ads for Lipitor, Evista, Zetia, and Viagra to name just a few.


It’s almost as if pharmaceutical marketers are listening…to me! I know it’s just not me, but I think they are listening. How refreshing.


Merck asks “If you ran a pharmaceutical company, what would you change?” I might first kill all the marketers. I mean this only in the most benign (sic) Shakespearean sense of preparing the way for a new order, a new kind of marketing. I’d get rid of all the “kids” with their packaged goods promotional ideas and get back to the basics. I’d also ease up on the doctor-in-DTC thing!

Monday, January 16, 2006

Finally, Marketing Aligns with PR - Maybe

Pharma will be faced with numerous challenges in 2006 according to experts who have responded to the 2006 Pharma Trend Survey hosted by Pharma Marketing News. The most visible challenge -- i.e., the one that can affect the industry's image the most if not handled correctly -- is direct-to-consumer (DTC) advertising, which has become "a poster child for the industry and its marketing activities," according to Pharma Marketing Roundtable member Harry Sweeney.

A large majority (68%) of respondents to the survey feel that there will be an increase in regulations of DTC by FDA in 2006 as opposed to 11% who feel there will not be any increase. [You can take the survey and add your views on trends for 2006.]

"Obviously Vioxx accelerated [FDA's] concerns [about risk]," said Vince DeChellis, another member of the Roundtable. "The FDA is going to be pretty antsy trying to deal with public opinion, especially with additional lawsuits that will be enjoined in the upcoming months and years ahead, not to mention mid-term elections this year."

Most experts I have spoken with believe that if the FDA comes out with new regulations, these will most likely focus on the communication of risk in consumer drug ads.

The industry, of course, has its own views on how risk should be communicated. Some industry proponents, for example, contend that risk should be presented in absolute terms rather that relative terms (see Marketing Acceptable Risk). Study data presented at a recent FDA public hearing suggest that consumers presented with drug risk information as an absolute risk were willing to accept a higher level of risk to achieve therapeutic benefit than those who were presented information as relative risk. That is, if I told you that your chances of getting a heart attack was 5 times higher if you took Vioxx than if you took Aleve, you would be less inclined to accept that risk than if I told you that your absolute risk was 0.25% under Vioxx vs. 0.05% under Aleve. Neither of the latter two numbers are big enough to worry about, but a 5-times increase just sounds bad.

I believe that risk communications to consumers should be in terms of relative risk, not absolute risk. This fits with industry rhetoric about "choice" as in more drugs that treat the same condition give consumers a better choice. To make an informed choice, it's best to compare one drug to another and relative risk is the way to go. That's how I buy computers and other stuff -- by side-by-side comparison of features (risk is just another feature of a drug).

However risk is communicated, pharma's marketing messages and PR need to be better aligned with regard to drug risk.
If all drugs have risks as the industry PR says, then all drug ads should adequately convey that risk. FDA needs to provide the ground rules for how this should be done, otherwise we will end up with a crazy quilt and consumers will be even more confused.

Another misalignment between marketing and PR has been around the issue of the educational merit of DTC ads. Some pharma executives (e.g., Pfizer's CEO Harry McKinnell) go so far as calling consumer ads "direct to consumer education." Readers of this blog know that's a bit too far for me!

ED Category: The Good Poster Boy?
To achieve better alignment with what the industry says in its PR, therefore, DTC ads must become more educational and also better at communicating risk. Oddly enough, the therapeutic category that is leading the way is the erectile dysfunction (ED) category, which has been the "bad" poster boy for the drug industry for years and exemplified everything that was wrong with DTC.

New ED ads, however, feature a real doctor talking about risks associated with taking ED drugs and other ED ads are unbranded and talk about the risk factors for developing ED Schering-Plough and GSK, marketers of Levitra, are running ads that talk about high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes as risk factors. The ads direct viewers to a Web site where they can get a Men's Facts Kit. (I sent for mine, but haven't received it yet.)

[BTW, SP/GSK's unbranded ads break a rule in drug advertising that says that such ads benefit the market leader -- Viagra in this case -- more than the product sponsoring the unbranded ad. In this case, however, a rising tide floats all ships. Sales in the ED market have not been up to the industry's expectations (see "Why are ED Sales Falling?" and "ED Sales Limp") and any increase will be welcome. Levitra may still be number 3 in its share of the pie, but the pie will be bigger if the new ads work.]

With these new campaigns, the ED category may become the "good" poster boy for the industry. I hope so. The whole world -- at least the world that matters most to pharma (i.e., the US consumer) -- is watching!

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

2006 Pharma Trend Survey

SurveysFrom time to time, Pharma Marketing News hosts surveys of subscribers and visitors to the website. These surveys give you an opportunity to offer your opinions and insights on important pharmaceutical marketing issues. Most surveys are conducted anonymously, meaning you do not have to supply your name or contact information. However, you may opt in to provide this information so that we may contact you for more details or to quote you in any article we may write as a result of the survey.


CURRENT SURVEY:
Pharma Marketing Network's 2006 Pharma Trend Survey

Click here to take this survey.

Survey began 9 January 2006.

THE ISSUE

This is the time of the year when we all look into our crystal balls and try to come up with predictions for the new year. In December, 2005, for example, Pharmaceutical Executive Magazine published their 2006 Forecast based on interviews with a few experts (find the article by clicking here).

"Pharma Marketing Network's 2006 Pharma Trend Survey" is designed for a broader audience, including all the subscribers to Pharma Marketing News, members of the Online Discussion Forum, and visitors to the Pharma Marekting Network Web site. Anyone, that is, that has an opinion.

You are invited to take this survey to add your insight to our crystal ball. This is a good opportunity for you to show how smart you are and get your name on the list when reporters call and ask if we know anyone who they can interview. If you want, you can respond to the survey anonymously as well.

The list of trends in the survey is comprehensive, but you are welcome to add your own. Here's a preview of a few of the trends we want to know about (How likely is each trend in 2006?):


  • Cuts in DTC Ad Spending
  • Dwindling Pipeline of New Drugs
  • Increase in Generic Competition
  • Cuts in Sales and/or Marketing Personnel
  • Increased Outsourcing of R&D and/or Manufacturing
  • More...

What do you think?

Click here to take this survey. You will be able to see a summary of the de-identified results to date immediately after completing the survey.

Friday, January 06, 2006

Pharma's Jekyll & Hyde

Tom McKillop, former CEO of AstraZeneca, seems a bit schizophrenic when it comes to describing his image of the pharma industry vs. the reality he has helped create.

Of course, I only have his words to go by as reported last week in the Wall Street Journal (see "A Veteran Offers His Take On the Drug Industry's Future"; subscription required).

According to McKillop, "[The drug] industry is seen as a commercial machine not as an R&D machine." He bases this on pub barside conversations. Indeed, Sir McKillop was spotted recently nursing a pint of bitter and conversing with barrister Ambrose Holingswood of Worwich Lane at
The Slaughtered Lamb on Great Mutton Street in London.

Holingswood recounted that McKillop droned on and on about how the drug industry should "get back to talking about the R&D." A few pints later, however, McKillop reportedly said "If you want to be in primary care, you need to be big enough to operate in sales and marketing." Holingswood was confused (the three pints he drank did not help matters).

"Sir McKillop," Holingswood ventured, "didn't you create AstraZeneca out of two smaller companies precisely to build a commercial machine, not an R&D machine? I remind you that you once said 'innovation rates have been poorer with very large companies.' It seems to me that you cannot, therefore, have both effective R&D and commercial prowess as the two are mutually exclusive if one is to literally interpret what you have said."

"Yes Holingswood, I did say that," countered McKillop, "but AstraZeneca achieved the Goldilocks balance -- it's large enough for marketing clout but not so big that drug discovery and development can't be managed effectively."

"I see," said Holingswood as he sidled further down the bar away from McKillop who began crying into his beer and mumbling the phrase "talk about the R&D, achieve Goldilocks balance" over and over again.


Pharma's Jekyll vs. Hyde

It's not Goldilocks and The Three Bears that comes to mind when I think of Big Pharma. Robert Louis Stevenson's story of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is more appropriate. R&D, of course, is the Dr. Jekyll ("good") side of pharma and sales and marketing is the Mr. Hyde ("evil") side. The two cannot long survive in the same body. One or the other must prevail. I see it just as Stevenson saw it -- Mr. Hyde will prevail!

According to RLS, "Hyde was indifferent to Jekyll, or but remembered him as the mountain bandit remembers the cavern in which he conceals himself from pursuit."

Pharma is being pursued by its critics and, like Hyde used Jekyll, is using R&D as a cavern in which to hide. It just can't work. It's time for the pharma industry to "bring the life of that unhappy Henry Jekyll to an end" by leaving the innovation to more agile and efficient smaller companies and focusing on commercialization.

Yes, the industry will have to face being despised and hated, but it could work on making its Hyde side more ethical to mitigate the negative baggage that comes with commercialization. And, by leaving the research to partners, it can break the influence that Hyde has over Jekyll at least to a greater degree than is possible now when both reside in the same body.

There already is a trend in this direction as big pharma licenses more drugs developed by biotech and other smaller companies. Unfortunately, Big Pharma companies want to have it all and eventually gobble up the smaller companies, thereby stifling innovation.

There may be gold in biotech, specialty, and orphan drugs that are indicated originally for very small populations of patients and later find much wider use. These non-blockbusters, however, require a completely different kind of marketing. A very good article on this topic is "The New Branding Model: From Blockbusters to Targeted Therapies" (free summary; small fee for complete text).

Whether or not the current the blockbuster model embraced by the pharmaceutical industry remains viable "is one of the most interesting questions at the moment," says McKillop (for more on this, see "Movies and Drugs: Same Blockbuster Mentality").

Meanwhile, back at The Slaughtered Lamb, McKillop suddenly regained his composure, sprang up and cornered Holingswood in the loo. "The blockbuster model must go, you know," McKillop ominously uttered as Holingswood backed away. "Yes, Mr. Hyde -- I mean Mr. Jekyll, Sir McKillop, whoever you are -- yes, yes, it must go and so should I. Mind if I zip up?"

This Blogger's Mission Statement

This is a good time of the year to communicate a mission statement of sorts.

Personal Point of View

Blogs, of course, are highly personal points of view and Pharma Marketing Blog is no exception. It'’s all about me -- my opinions, my ideas, my references, my biases. This is why this blog is written in the first person grammar style. I can't be so self-indulgent in my newsletter or listserv, both of which depend on more unbiased reporting to attract and maintain a wide subscriber base. In other words, this blog represents my personal views and not the official views of the editor and publisher of
Pharma Marketing News (which also happens to me right now).

When I started Pharma Marketing Blog (PM Blog) in January, 2005, my goal was to have a place to be as opinionated as I desired and as often as needed rather than using Pharma Marketing News as a vehicle for my personal opinions. I still do publish my opinions in the Up Front section of the newsletter, but space there is limited to about 500 words! Not that I want to write long posts to this blog -- some topics just require more words than others!


I could have posted my opinions via the
PHARMA-MKTING e-mail discussion group, but I felt that my postings there would dominate the space and unnecessarily clutter members' e-mail in boxes, two things I wish to avoid. It's easy to push your opinions on a defenseless audience, but the true test is whether people will willingly take time to come to your opinions. Then you know it is all worthwhile. I am happy to say that this blog is worthwhile and has been independently recognized as such by the Wall Street Journal (see WSJ Cites PM Blog as "Must Read").

Pharmaceutical Marketing and Pharma's Public Image is THE Focus of This Blog
Since I started this blog, I have posted more than 125 entries on a number of issues related to pharmaceutical marketing and the image of the pharmaceutical industry. This is
the focus of PM Blog. Sometimes, however, I may write about pharmaceutical research or general business issues, but only in so far as it affects the commercial side of the business or the image of the industry.


About Comments

I am not a big fan of people posting unedited comments to this blog. So, I review comments and either allow them as is or reject them outright. It's not that I wish to emulate Microsoft's policy of kowtowing to China's repressive censoring of blogs, but I need some way to block nut cases and hucksters from using this blog to hawk alternative ED treatments! I don't have time to deal with that crap. So, I am forced to do a bit of censoring myself -- i.e.,
only comments that I approve are posted to this blog.

Synergy Between PM Blog and PHARMA-MKTlNG istserv

One of the strengths of PM Blog is that it is part and parcel of the
Pharma Marketing Network, which includes the online, e-mail-based PHARMA-MKTING discussion group. PHARMA-MKTING has been going strong for 8 or 9 years and has over 2,000 subscribers! I value their opinions and you will often see these opinions quoted in posts to this blog.

Here's how it works: Each time I post something here, I send off a short notice to the PHARMA-MKTING listserv, inviting members to read the post and then use the listserv to comment on the issues. Sometimes a lively discussion ensues and we all learn something. That's when I quote the discussion on the blog as a follow-up to the original post. I like the resulting synergy between PM Blog and PHARMA-MKTING. It helps keep blog readership up and further builds the Pharma Marketing Network community of experts.


Synergy Between PM Blog and Pharma Marketing Network Web Site

At first, I didn'’t think PM Blog would be as important as the Pharma Marketing Network (PMN) Web site, which has a lot of resources for pharmaceutical marketers. Now, however, PM Blog is indispensable to my effort to build and maintain the subscriber base and to raise the visibility of the main Web site in major search engines. Readers of the blog also benefit from the links to information available through the PMN Web site.


Some other ways in which PM Blog helps me achieve my goals and be more relevant to my readers:

  • It's a place for me to test ideas for newsletter articles. Some of my posts to PM Blog are trial balloons for future articles in Pharma Marketing News. I can measure how popular topics are by looking at blog traffic and responses from PHARMA-MKTING members. In a sense, then, I am a highly regulated blogger and adjust how far I take a topic depending on the response of readers. Unlike other bloggers, I don't claim to be an expert on every topic I write about. I am, however, a very knowledgeable and networked "pundit."
  • It helps me overcome writer's block. I can whip up a blog post quickly without paying too much attention to organization of my thoughts. Sorry, but you'll have to live with my stream of consciousness writing style.
  • Because blog readers appreciate links, this blog provides links to multiple sources of information, including links back to past articles from Pharma Marketing News (subscription often required, but not always). I also include links to important source documents (e.g., articles in the press, Congressional reports, etc.).
  • Because of my blog, I have become a pharma marketing pundit! PM Blog has increased my exposure to the press and I often get inquiries from reporters and authors.
This last point is very interesting. Journalists may join a list like PHARMA-MKTING or subscribe to newsletters like Pharma Marketing News in order to keep up on topics they might report on, but they quickly tire of all the associated e-mail and advertising that is not relevant to their immediate needs. It is much easier for them to keep track of issues by subscribing to PM Blog's RSS feed. They can then choose what they want to read and contact me for my insight and quotes. I often refer them to other experts -- especially to members of the PHARMA-MKTING listserv.

A blog is an ideal method to keep in touch with reporters and journalists. Pharmaceutical companies can learn a lesson from this, not only to improve their public relations efforts, but also to communicate with their customers (see, for example, "
Blogs and the Pharmaceutical Industry").

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Pfizer - the Rodney Dangerfield of the Drug Industry

See Corrections and Amplification below.

"We get no respect," said a Pfizer representative, "no respect at all I tell you! Last week we ran an ED help-seeking ad that did not mention Viagra and
we're very active in providing and working with different groups to create materials to emphasize safe sex. Yet the AIDS Healthcare Foundation says it is outraged that we would employ an advertising strategy that encourages the use of Viagra as a 'party drug.'"

Some time ago I sort of made fun of Pfizer CEO Henry McKinnell who lamented that the drug industry gets no respect (see "Can't Get Any Respect!"). McKinnell, of course, was talking about respect from consumers whose heart attacks, strokes, and cancer were "cured" (according to McKinnell) by the drug industry.

And even though Pfizer has made some admirable changes to its direct-to-consumer advertising, it still seems to get no respect; AIDS Healthcare Foundation "outrage" being a case in point. [BTW, the quote at the top -- except for the bold text portion about safe sex -- was not made by any Pfizer representative that I know of. It's just an artistic license we bloggers like to use.]

Pfizer is the Rodney Dangerfield of the pharmaceutical industry!

Now you know that I am no fan of ED drug DTC. Laura Landro, health reporter for the Wall Street Journal, got the message. She said, in an article about blogs, "among [Mack's] pet peeves is erectile-dysfunction advertising, which he believes focuses too heavily on younger men and libido-enhancing promises while failing to educate consumers about the disease."

It's true. That's why I was pleasantly surprised when I recently saw Pfizer's new non-branded TV ad about erectile dysfunction. I heard that Pfizer would be doing this back in November, 2005 (see, for example, Pfizer Tries Unbranded ED DTC Ads), but I did not see it until a few days ago.

Not only did I see it, but I learned something about ED (erectile dysfunction) from it. And it made me think that I better know more because the ad pointed out that ED could be related to high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and diabetes. I knew about the diabetes and high blood pressure connections, but didn't think high cholesterol was a factor. I'm no smarter than the average guy, so I figure that message also got through to many other men.

I also note that GSK, marketer of Levitra in the US, ran a similar ad directing viewers to a web site and 800 number.

So, my hat's off to Pfizer for doing a good job, at least in the TV ad.

The AIDS Healthcare Foundation's concerns, mentioned at the beginning of this post, were focused on full-page print ads for Viagra that played up the sexual promiscuity angle:
The full-page ad in question ran in The Wall Street Journal and features the same middle-aged man Pfizer has used in most Viagra ads. Two pieces of the text read, "What are you doing on New Year's Eve?" and "Fact: Viagra can help guys with all degrees of erectile dysfunction -- from mild to severe." [AdWeek: AIDS FOUNDATION BLASTS VIAGRA ADS. Characterizes Pfizer as 'Reckless' and 'Irresponsible']
I haven't seen this ad. It may be irresponsible, but "reckless?" No respect I tell you, no respect at all!

Corrections and Amplications
I mistakenly attributed learning about diseases or medical conditions that are associated with ED to a Pfizer non(un)-branded ad. I actually learned about these associations via GSK's non-branded ad in which cartoon characters are used. This ad directs viewers to a web site where you can get more information.

It's interesting that I got confused and attributed a groundbreaking ad to Viagra. This is an example of the oft-repeated criticism of non-branded ads; i.e., they tend to benefit the category leader (Viagra in this case) the most. Pharma companies are aware of this, but often they base their lack of interest in non-branded ads on the opinion that they are not as effective as branded ads in getting people to take action (see, for example, "Why unbranded ads don't work").

The action ED marketers seem to want to happen now is for men (and women) to start talking about ED and the campaigns by Pfizer and GSK are very similar in that respect. This is another reason I got confused: Pfizer did run a non-branded DTC TV ad and it's campaign has the tagline "Make the Call," which is very similar to GSK/Bayer's new campaign tagline, which is "Strike Up a Conversation".

I am happy to contribute to the new ED chatter!

Sunday, January 01, 2006

New Year's Resolutions for Pharma

Merck's new "Patients Come First" TV ad starts off with this question: "If you ran a pharmaceutical company, what would you change?" I thought I'd take them up on that challenge -- and encourage readers of this blog to do the same via comments to this post -- by answering that question in the form of New Year's Resolutions.

#1. Be More Transparent

Pharma and its representatives should pledge to be more transparent in 2006. By this I mean stop hiding information that you have promised to reveal and stop covering up and spinning information when you are caught red-handed.

This is a philosophy that pharma should apply across the board from the listing of clinical trials it sponsors, to reporting of clinical trial data in peer-reviewed literature, to the disclosure of side effects in direct-to-consumer advertising, to the detailing of drugs to physicians, to the financial support of lawmakers in Washington, DC.

In 2005, the industry has was the focus of numerous stories in the press about hiding information. Here are a just a couple of recent examples:


"
Medical Journal: Drug Studies Hide Key Data" - Several major pharmaceutical companies are withholding important details about clinical drug trials, despite urging from federal regulators and medical-journal editors to be more forthcoming. A spokesman for Lilly said, "We've met all the reporting requirements for the [Congressionally-mandated] registry." [WSJ; subscription required]

"
Merck's Hand in the Cookie Jar" - Merck gets caught excising data from a Vioxx study manuscript just days before it was published in the New England Journal of Medicine. Merck claims: "The VIGOR publication, which was peer-reviewed, fairly and accurately described the results of the study as of the pre-specified cutoff for analysis." Technically correct, but morally bankrupt, this defense certainly does not abide by Merck's claim to "put patients first." Practically no one I know stood up and defended Merck on this one.


#2: Cut Down on the Bullshit in Drug Promotion!

Instead of complaining about First Amendment rights to free speech, Pharma should pledge in 2006 to cut down on the bullshit in its promotion of drugs to physicians. (It may be too much to ask the same for DTC.) For some background on this issue, see "
Is Pharmaceutical Marketing BS?"

Again, Merck has led the way in 2005 in this category as evidenced by its "Dodge Ball" plan to sidestep physicians questions about the cardiovascular effects of Vioxx (see "
Get a Load of Those Gams!" where you will find all the juicy Merck documentation of the practice).

There are lots of other areas, especially in the public relations arena, where BS reigns supreme. In 2006 Pharma should find a new customer/employee-centric voice rather than a corporate-centric voice to promote the benefits of the industry and its products. For more ideas on how to do this, see "
Blogs and the Pharmaceutical Industry" (Pharma Marketing News; subscription required).

Also see these posts to Pharma Marketing Blog: "
Say it isn't so, J&J!", "Terror Politics vs Drug Importation", "PhRMA's Terrorist Plot", and "Pharma Image Makeover Tactics Unconvincing".


#3: Sign Up and Abide by the Spirit as Well as the Letter of Emerging DTC Principles

I don't know if every pharmaceutical company has officially endorsed PhRMA's "Guiding Principles on Direct-to-Consumer Advertising" (see "
PhRMA Finalizes DTC Principles") but if they have not, they definitely should. More important, pharma companies in 2006 should pledge to actually abide by the spirit of the principles and not just the letter.

I commend Pfizer for not only going above and beyond PhRMA's principles but also immediately living up to its own pledge (see "
Pfizer DTC Pledge: ED is Litmus Test"). For example, Pfizer pledged to spend more money on non-branded advertising and now we are seeing these ads aired on prime-time TV.


#4: Keep Out of Court

Goes without saying!


I could go on, but these are the resolutions that I feel are important regarding pharmaceutical marketing and public relations. If you have any others, please feel free to post a comment to this blog.