… Healthcare product manufacturers feature television advertising as an important element in their marketing strategies to reach a wider audience …

7 Drivers: Pharmaceutical Television Advertising

Direct-to-consumer TV ads deliver results for prescription drug and other healthcare product manufacturers

John G. Baresky

Television advertising for prescription drugs is a controversial practice but is an important component of the marketing strategy for many pharmaceutical manufacturers plus other healthcare product manufacturers. The FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research (CDER) and its Office of Prescription Drug Promotion(OPDG) closely monitor what pharmaceutical companies display and communicate within their television, print, radio or digital ads.

Print ads promoting prescription products to consumers was allowed beginning in 1985. Merck launched a print direct-to-consumer (DTC) pneumonia vaccine ad focused on persons 65 years of age and older.

Television ads promoting prescription pharmaceutical products were not allowed until 1997. Schering-Plough ran a TV ad for Claritan in 1996 and didn’t mention what the product’s indication was. It touched off a firestorm of government and industry debate regarding televised DTC pharmaceutical advertising. Cautiously and perhaps somewhat reluctantly regulators began to allow pharmaceutical advertising to appear on television. Coincidentally, Merck acquired Schering-Plough in 2009 for about $41 billion.

Few nations other than the United States allow DTC prescription drug product ads in print or television commercials. The World Health Organization has spoken out against DTC ads and within the U.S. it periodically surfaces as an issue courtesy of politicians, consumer watchdog groups and professional medical associations.

Regardless of the arguments against it, DTC pharmaceutical television advertising is deployed for various purposes in the United States. Ad development and their associated campaigns are complex. The investment in them is multiplied based on audience research costs and purchase of the broadcast time required to get in front of audiences.

There is always some risk the messaging or imagery featured in the ads, programming selection or other variables of a campaign may miss their mark. As results are monitored closely, revisions are quickly made if necessary to improve the trajectory of campaign KPIs and ROI.

  1. Pharmaceutical and biotech manufacturers seize the moment at product launch opportunities that exist only once in the brand lifecycle.

The FDA approved 48 new drugs in 2019. This number does not include allergenic products, blood or blood products, cellular or gene therapy products, plasma derivatives, immunizations/vaccines or products approved in 2019 by the Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research (CBER) of which there were over 20). Pharmaceutical manufacturers use DTC TV ads to share information about their new brand and its indications as soon as possible.

Television ads may also be run in select regions to bolster market access and pull-through campaigns aligned with managed care formulary wins. Conversely, a new drug launch can also trigger DTC ad campaigns from competitors seeking to blunt the success of the new market entry.

2) When brand products go off-patent, generic drugs enter the market at substantially less cost as generic manufacturers are essentially copying the formulation of the branded product and did not incur the costs of actually developing it.

The brand drug innovators of a product make one last promotional push before their brand loses 50–80% or more of its profit margin when it becomes available as a generic by deploying a large scale DTC ad campaign strategy.

Brand pharmaceutical product developers are up against generic competition regularly. 2019 generic drug approvals totaled 935 full approvals and 236 tentative approvals according to the Commissioner of Food and Drug, Food and Drug Administration Dr. Norman E. “Ned” Sharpless, MD.

3) Physicians are members of the TV viewing audience along with their associates, families, friends and other acquaintances.

According to the Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF), there are over just over 1 million primary care and specialist physicians in the United States. Brand recognition, details about a specific product indication and safety information can be encapsulated within one ad in 30 seconds seen by physicians watching TV in urban, rural, metropolitan, regional and national markets.

…a changing U.S. healthcare marketplace features more than just doctors as high prescribers…

4) There are over 270,000 nurse practitioners in the United States and this number is growing.

Nurse practitioners can prescribe medication in all 50 states and Washington DC including highly regulated Schedule II-V substances and they are part of the greater TV audience. The DTC advertising strategy for pharmaceuticals or other healthcare products for prescribing nurse practitioners mirrors physicians: brand recognition, communication of a specific indication plus safety information delivered in one 30-second ad.

5) The number of physician assistants is expanding; there over 115,000 in the United States now.

Regulations vary by state as to what physician assistants are allowed to do with prescribing medication. Typically they are permitted to prescribe medication under the supervision of a medical doctor and the name of the supervising medical doctor is featured in the prescription.

Their increasing number and growing role in healthcare make them an important segment of pharmaceutical marketing. Just like nurses and doctors, the physician assistants are engaged via a 30-second TV commercial that delivers brand recognition, drug indication and important safety details.

…pharmacists are integral to the prescribing process and have varying degrees of influence…

6) There are over 260,000 pharmacists in the United States and they have an important role in the dispensing of medication and sharing of information with patients, medical professionals and other stakeholders.

Pharmacists may work in retail, hospital, mail order or specialty pharmacies or have consultative roles within managed care organizations, health systems, pharmacy benefit management companies or employee benefit consulting firms.

They may influence care and cost decisions, frequently engage in dialogue with prescribers of medications plus educate patients about prescribed drugs. A 30-second pharmaceutical ad helps introduce them to and familiarize them with a prescription product.

7) Pharmaceutical and healthcare product companies are seeking to augment their marketing efforts beyond the scope of their professional sales teams and digital marketing efforts.

Many health systems either restrict or outright ban pharmaceutical and other healthcare product manufacturer sales executives from meeting with physicians, nurse practitioners, physician assistants or pharmacists in the hospitals, outpatient facilities, clinics and care practices they own and operate.

A large number of chain pharmacies and mass merchandisers restrict or prohibit healthcare product or pharmaceutical sales executive access to pharmacists working in stores. Pharmaceutical companies effectively deploy DTC ads to reach medical and pharmacy professionals outside of the boundaries of their work.

Given the seven reasons above as well as others, DTC drug ads spanning print, digital and TV can be effective for pharmaceutical manufacturers and other healthcare product companies to reach multiple audience categories quickly and effectively. All visual, print and audio content must be precisely crafted and delivered as safety, side-effect and other information are required by the FDA to accompany the brand messaging and indications featured in the advertisements.

Looking ahead broadcast and cable programming providers are challenged by other content producers and content delivery technologies. Acorn, Amazon, DirectTV, Now, Facebook, Hulu, Netflix, YouTube, Sling TV and others are spreading the traditional broadcast and cable audiences across a wider selection of technologies, programming content and media venues.

Traditional television DTC ads in broadcast and cable programming are still effective with further opportunities in the digital realms based on their fully portable audio and visual technical attributes. Healthcare product manufacturers of all types are continuing to refine marketing strategies to maintain an effective connection with all of their targeted audience stakeholders in traditional television and emerging digital opportunities.

Thank you for reading this story

Read my other articles about medical and healthcare business trends, content marketing and digital strategy, brand and product management, consumer wellness, managed care and market access strategy. Contact me today for your healthcare content writing and content strategy needs.

I have over 20 years of experience in the healthcare industry producing valuable healthcare content for audiences and customers spanning physicians, nurses, pharmacists plus pharmaceutical companies, medical technology manufacturers, healthcare provider organizations, managed care, investors, consumers and other stakeholders.

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