What happens when pharmaceutical company ads urge TV views and magazine readers to “ask your doctor” about a particular drug? A new study from market researcher Verilogue suggests patients either aren’t asking for the drug by name, or worse, they’re asking about its scary side effects. Verilogue came to that conclusion from a unique and useful vantage point: It recorded 12,500 real conversations between patients and physicians.
Direct-to-consumer (DTC) drug advertising is one of the most controversial issues in pharmaceuticals. Critics say the ads promote the over-use of prescription drugs that are sometimes dangerous. In fact, the United States and New Zealand are the only two countries in the world that allow drug companies to pitch their products directly to consumers.
But drug companies just keep placing all those ads—to the tune of $5 billion a year. That may be because some research suggests they actually do work. According to market researcher Milward Brown, DTC is especially effective for raising awareness of new brands. Milward Brown surveys patients, and has found that 50% of respondents report requesting drugs they’ve seen on TV or read about in a magazine. “More often than not, after someone sees an ad, they go on the Internet to get more information, so they can have an intelligent conversation about it with their doctor,” says Patrick Ryan, v.p. of Milward Brown’s health care practice.
Maybe so, but Verilogue’s researchers believe pharma companies could take several steps to make their ads more effective. They could provide doctors with materials that address patients’ side-effect concerns, for example. Most importantly, they should find new ways to connect meaningfully with patients. The most frequently remembered campaign in Verilogue’s study was for the osteoporosis drug Boniva, which actress Sally Field promotes. “Patients connect with Sally and see her as a trusted ally,” says Verilogue CEO Jeff Kozloff. “It’s the way she delivers the message. She gives examples of how she lives with the disease.”
Verilogue even suggests tactics that go way beyond advertising, such as trying to place drugs into story lines of TV shows and films. He isn’t aware of any companies that have tried that, but overall, he says, finding ways to connect emotionally with patients is important. “Don’t just speak to the patient,” he says. “Validate their experiences.” Could the latest hot drug be coming soon to a theater near you?
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