My colleague Richard Meyer -- who is the author of World of DTC Marketing blog -- often gives his advice to pharma marketers about advertising to consumers. In a recent post (here), Meyer noted that "patients are more worried about quality of life when it comes to choosing healthcare treatments. This is something that all DTC marketers need to note because all the DTC ads in the world are not going to overcome a list of really bad potential side effects." He was talking about cancer treatments.
One piece of advice Meyer offered was this: "If your product has fair balance that includes the word 'fatal' think about the channel you’re using. On TV for example having an extended list of fair balance could ensure that your target audience won’t consider your product."
Using urban slang, Meyer's advice to pharma marketers might be summed up as: Do not use the "F (fatal) Bomb."
Perhaps drug advertisers never mention "fatal," but I have seen many TV drug ads that mention death as a possible side effect. And I'm reminded of what might have been the very first TV ad to do this.
In 2007 Pfizer ran a 250-second TV ad for Celebrex that mentioned "death" due to side effects at least two times.
At the time, Bruce Grant -- another pharma marketing expert -- said "I can't even begin to imagine how much Pfizer is spending on this campaign at 250 seconds of airtime a pop. And by returning to the airwaves, they've just plastered a big 'Kick Me' sign on their back for Sidney Wolfe, Senator Grassley, Rep. Waxman, et al. Whoever sold this idea to Pfizer management must be one heck of a salesperson" (see "Celebrex Ad: Let's Dive Deeper").
A poll of my readers indicated that not every viewer of the Celebrex ad got the message of death, although most did get the positive messages (op cit). So, mentioning death is not as fatal as some experts may think.
I think Meyer's advice not to drop the F Bomb in DTC ads contradicts the main argument of his blog post, which was summed up in the closing sentience: "The objective [of DTC marketing] is not to guise fair balance or drug side effects but to foster an open and honest communication with your audience who is going to find out the truth anyway…"
The Celebrex TV ad demonstrated that pharma marketers can mention death and still communicate the quality of life benefits to the audience. Maybe it costs more for a longer ad, but isn't it worth it? If, as Meyer suggested, pharma marketers want to "talk about [quality of life issues] in real world language that patients understand," they also have to talk about serious side effects -- including fatal ones -- no matter what the channel of communication, IMHO.