Friday, January 30, 2009

Which Way Will DTC Wind Blow?

I love Fridays! It's the day when I get to read a new post by Bob Ehrlich, fellow blogger and Chairman of DTC Perspectives. Sometimes, I am honored that Bob mentions me by name as he did last week when we debated the definition of the word "decimate" as it applies to direct-to-consumer (DTC) ad spending (see here).

[I just wish that Bob would link out from his blog to the relevant post in my blog so that his readers can see exactly what I said in context. Oh well, you can't have it all. Sigh!]

This week, Bob takes on the issue on DTC's impact in general and broadcast/mass media DTC in particular. I have discussed this issue many times and I believe Bob was thinking of me when he said "The long term viability of DTC effectiveness is under debate among industry watchers, particularly the use of mass media." I forgive him for not mentioning me by name because I too have also referred to him without mentioning his name (see "DTC Spending Will Be Decimated in 2009, Experts Say").

[BTW, Bob is not the ONLY expert who predicts that DTC spending will be "decimated" (or worse) in 2009. For more on that, see the January, 2009 Pharma Marketing News article "The Future of DTC Advertising." You can get this article FREE if you are a subscriber (subscribe here).]

Bob cites yet ANOTHER study that claims that DTC advertising is losing its "punch." He mentions an MSNBC article and the study, but does not provide the links. Here they are -- MSNBC report: "Direct-to-consumer drug ads losing their punch"; The study itself: "Lack of Impact of Direct-to-Consumer Advertising on the Physician-Patient Encounter in Primary Care: A SNOCAP Report".

The study's results are summarized in the abstract:
"One hundred sixty-eight clinicians in 22 practices completed forms after 1,647 patient encounters. In 58 encounters (3.5%), the patient inquired about a specific new prescription medication. Community health center patients made fewer inquiries than private practice patients (1.7% vs 7.2%, P<.001). Predictors of inquiries included taking 3 or more chronic medications and the clinician being female. Most clinicians reported the requested medication was not their first choice for treatment (62%), but it was prescribed in 53% of the cases. Physicians interpreted the overall impact on the visit as positive in 24% of visits, neutral in 66%, and negative in 10%."
BTW, pharmaceutical marketers themselves have done studies that revealed even more astonishing results. CommonHealth, a leading pharmaceutical advertising agency, for example, did a study from which it concluded that DTC advertising is rarely referenced by patients when visiting physicians. Their study says this happens only in 0.6% of visits! However, CommonHealth did not go so far as to say that DTC advertising is ineffective. They KNOW it's effective (based on data I haven't seen). They just claim not to know how it works. See "Advertisers Don't Know How DTC Works. Say wha?"

"The Colorado study, flaws and all, may still be correct in concluding that DTC ads are becoming less effective," Bob said. I leave it up to you to read all of Bob's comments, but the one comment that I'd like to focus on is highlighted in bold in this quote from Bob:
"The issue of effectiveness, however, is measured by many controlled studies. Most DTC ads are measured for ROI by the leading market research houses. As far [as] I know they still deliver the 2 to 1 payback on average. Therefore making any conclusions on DTC effectiveness from one small study is dangerous. I would rather trust that drug marketers, who have a lot of data on ROI, are making rational choices. The brands that continue to spend are very likely to have a positive ROI. Management in these times is going to demand objective evidence of DTC effectiveness."
Show Me the Data!
Again, Bob does not reference any evidence when he says "As far [as] I know..." and "...who have a lot of data on ROI..."

Maybe Bob is privy to some inside, proprietary data that we "industry watchers" do not have. He is, after all, an "insider" and, according to Rich Meyer, author of World of DTC Marketing blog, Ehrlich has a "conflict of interest" in the matter -- not that there is anything wrong with that. Bob's main business, after all, depends upon DTC advertising. And, these days, I do not wish to see anyone's business suffer.

But, please, show me the ROI data!

Which Way Will DTC Wind Blow?

Interestingly, however, Ehrlich is hedging his bet on DTC viability, which is smart. DTC Perspectives recently announced the creation of the OTC (Over-the-Counter) Perspectives Division:
"OTC perspectives will serve the unmet needs of OTC Marketers, and provide educational conferences, industry forums and publications all designed to focus on the myriad of emerging issues OTC Marketers face in today's economic crisis and complex regulatory and consumer environments. The OTC National Conference June 4-5, 2009 in Boston will be the first conference of its kind created to address these unique and urgent needs." (See press release here).
It's good to know which way the DTC wind is blowing according to "DTC experts" and I wish Bob all the luck in the world and will offer to help him promote his OTC conference.*

Another direction the DTC wind may be blowing is online. Bob is agnostic when it comes to media, but he doth protest too much when he complains that "media gurus [is he referring to me again?] tell us mass media is dying. They want to see the drug industry adopt the new forms of communication such as social media and one-on-one marketing," Ehrlich says. "On the other hand, mass media is still the dominant form of most big sending DTC plans."

And that is proof enough that mass media is not dying as far as pharma marketers are concerned? I don't understand this because we started this whole discussion with studies that demonstrate that the current DTC model is not working and Bob himself said "One would expect that influence of drug ads has been reduced over time." How far should a medium's effectiveness be "reduced" before we consider it "dead" or "dying?" It's "decimate" vs. "annihilate" all over again!

Bob does not ignore "targeted communications" as he refers to Internet marketing. I give him that. But maybe he should hedge his bets further and start up a division called eMarketing Perspectives.™

[*Note: My publication, Pharma Marketing News, is a Media Partner for DTC Perspectives' "DTC National Conference." Being a Media Partner means that I get a free press pass to attend the conference in exchange for listing the conference on Pharma Marketing Network's Conference Calendar among other promotions.]


  1. Anonymous1:37 PM

    I also noticed the SNOCAP study when it came out a couple of weeks ago, and yes, it has significant limitations (large public-assistance patient component, large non-English-speaking patient component, almost entirely PCP office visits, etc, etc). However, if in spite of all that, you still want to grab the bad news, also take the good: when patients did request a brand, in 53% of cases the patient got the requested drug and, in 66% of requests, the doctor did not feel pressured to prescribe. This, in spite of the fact that in 62% of requests, the mentioned brand was not the first choice in the doctor's mind (not written up, but one hopes that the HCP regarded the request as therapeutically equivalent).

    The glass is BOTH half empty and half full, eh?

  2. Anonymous2:38 PM

    ROI for DTC ads, I believe, really depends upon to product/disease state. For example products that address non serious disease states, such as allergy and ED, are easy to sell via DTC. However other products like Cymbalta I would argue may not drive brand specific requests but I believe that people will research depression and pain as a result of these ads.

    The Amgen Enbrel campaign has also been able to keep sales of Enbrel strong even with new competitors in the market as patients with RA look for treatment options.

    Again Mr Ehrlich is clueless to the changes that are taking place within the marketing environment and his self-serving interests are clouding his judgement.

  3. As you said Rich, "ROI for DTC ads, I believe, really depends upon to product/disease state. For example products that address non serious disease states, such as allergy and ED, are easy to sell via DTC. However other products like Cymbalta I would argue may not drive brand specific requests but I believe that people will research depression and pain as a result of these ads."

    Couldnt agree more! Nicely said


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