Ban DTC Ads? No, But Physicians Have Some Tips for Pharma Marketers

Direct to Consumer Advertising in Pharma can be tough! Here's some tips and tricks to help maneuver the world of regulatory confines in pharma marketing.

Ban DTC Advertising

Results of a survey published January 26, 2017 by InCrowd, a provider of market intelligence for pharma marketing firms, might send a shiver down the spine of every marketer in the health and life sciences world.

More than one-third of physicians say that direct-to-consumer advertising should be banned.

 HUH?! A ban…on ALL DTC marketing?

 No more Irritabelle, the campy colon mascot for IBS drug, Viberzi? Say goodbye to Mr. Mucus, spokes-slime for Mucinex? An end to racy Viagra promotions?


Don’t start making plans to switch careers just yet!

 The bright side is that 65 percent of healthcare providers aren’t in favor of an overall ban. TV and online marketing raise patient awareness, prompting questions that lead to insightful conversations. HCPs just think pharma marketers can do a better job to improve ad content and messaging. Over a series of questions within the same survey:

  • 87 percent of respondents reported that patients exhibit some level of confusion with DTC ads;
  • Only 13 percent said that “most” of their patients could understand the DTC messages, while 41 percent of HCPs said “few” comprehend the ads;
  • Almost one-third of physicians stated that additional patient education is necessary; AND,
  • 17 percent of providers recommended simplifying the message to improve DTC ads.

Let’s focus on that last part, because – arguably – a lack of simplicity could be driving the other factors. A marketing message that’s overly complex would lead to confusion, misunderstanding, and the need for additional patient education.


So what is simplicity in marketing?

Simplicity is a back-to-basics tactic that sometimes gets lost among all the fancy tools and channels we marketers love to dabble with. But keeping things simple doesn’t mean dumbing them down. Consumers are savvy and you risk insulting them.

 Harvard Business Review conducted a survey on what makes consumers “sticky,” i.e., more or less likely to convert based upon a marketing message. The resulting report identified 40 factors that impact stickiness, including price, brand perception, volume of messages, interaction, etc. However, researchers found that the overwhelming factor that makes a consumer sticky is “decision simplicity,” which they defined as the ease with which they can gather information, evaluate trustworthiness, and confidently make a decision.

Translation: Consumers want simplicity from marketers.


Delivering simplicity is, well…simple

 In fact, it’s just a two-pronged approach:

  1. Identify one core message you want to convey.
  2. Take that core message and get to the point.

Yes, it’s true that pharma marketers have unique regulatory challenges in communications. You’ve got to properly balance risks and benefits, among other things. But, regulatory requirements aside, pharmaceutical marketing should always begin with a single central concept or tell one story.

 When you master what you want to say, how you say it is easy – not to mention FUN. The second prong is the creative part where you use different means, channels, and tactics to help your audience easily digest your message. It might be an analogy or a story to assist with comprehension about a drug’s indications. Or, you could take a multimedia approach with engaging images, video, and infographics that give a visual of your message.

You don’t have to answer every question of every audience member with your content: You simply need to make sure they’re thinking about the question – which they can then take to their HCP, who will thank you for focusing on simplicity.

eBook: The 7 Pillars of Pharmaceutical Communications Wisdom


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