Dear Pharma: Patients Aren’t Feeling Your DTC TV Ads

Yes, healthcare marketing gurus, it’s true: Consumers are just not that into your pharma TV ads anymore. We hate to be the bearers of bad news, especially when we know what you’re spending on advertising:


  • 2012 $3.2 billion
  • 2013 $3.6 billion
  • 2014 $4.3 billion
  • 2015 $5.2 billion


That’s a 60 percent increase over four years, but – don’t worry – your Direct-to-Consumer TV ads only make up about two-thirds of that amount. So almost $3.5 billion.


OK strike that: WORRY.


Not the “OMG I’m going home and hiding under my pillow” kind of worry. But “WHOA I need to think really think about what this means” state of concern. Because, according to a 2015 Treato survey, only 7 percent of patients talked to their doctor about a medication or treatment after seeing on TV; that’s down from 21 percent in 2014. Treato is a top source of online consumer insights information, so they know what they’re talking about. Which for pharma marketers is that your $3.5 billion budget reaches about 7 people out of a hundred. That’s not exactly a number to be thrilled about.


But it’s not all doom and gloom: The good news is that the pharmaceutical powers-that-be are expected to increase budgets in the online space – up to $2.55 billion by 2019. The shift reflects the healthcare industry’s realization that patients are more likely to go online to find information on medical conditions, among other factors.


Bring Back the Love


Now, you may not have the power to decide where you budget goes, but pharma comms can do something about what they’ve got control over: Online marketing strategies. Check out a few tips to make sure you’re connecting with patients in ways DTC TV ads just can’t do.


  • Incorporate Rich Multimedia: Multimedia that combines images, video, infographics, and text tells a story exponentially more effectively than any one format alone. It’s human nature to be drawn to amazing visuals and mind-blowing animation, so make sure to incorporate a creative mix of all multimedia types to get your brand message out there.


  • Stay Active on Social Media: Patients trust online communities that are dedicated to specific medical conditions, and they’re having conversations on social media that you need to know about – and even be a part of. We’ve covered a few:


  • Kill It on Pinterest: Brands successfully use this image-driven platform to raise awareness, engage audiences, and drive traffic to websites and landing pages.


  • Combine Facebook + Instagram: The combination of scale and engagement allow these two platforms present a unified, consistent approach to marketing. The one-two punch helps pharma PR teams work smarter, not harder.



  • Yes, You Can Use Twitter: It IS possible to use Twitter for engagement and connecting with relevant communities – even in 140 characters or less. The key is to provide the right risk/benefit balance in the Tweet and direct traffic to a landing site that contains more information.


  • Develop the Right Tool Kit: Success with online marketing in the pharma space means having the right solutions handy to accomplish your promotions goals. We’ve compiled a list of multimedia content creation and distribution tools pharma PR firms can use to boost campaigns and increase coverage. Our 2017 version builds upon our recommendations from 2016, and we’re looking forward to another update next year.


So don’t despair if patients aren’t getting a warm, fuzzy feeling from your DTC TV ads. What you can do is focus your efforts on creating fantastic digital and mobile campaigns to stay connected with your audience. And look forward to the coming years, because – if the experts are right – you’re going to have a bigger budget to work with in the future.


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