Pulling the plug on TV advertising for drugs

An article in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal (Some Drug Makers Curtail Ad Spending) reports that pharmaceutical companies are reducing direct to consumer television advertising. For example, Pfizer discovered that sales of Viagra remained steady even when the FDA temporarily ordered Viagra ads off the air. It’s not exactly a surprise to the typical consumer that the much-parodied TV ads (think, “Ask your doctor if the Purple Pill is right for you,” and “Erections lasting for more than four hours (while rare) require immediate medical attention,”) might not be that effective.

Pharma companies are shifting some of their TV budgets to online consumer marketing efforts. There are a number of issues they will need to address to make the Internet an effective medium for them:

  • Evolution of search engine optimization and keyword advertising. What is the right strategy, given the challenges to the integrity and effectiveness of the current system?
  • Growth of blogs. Should companies advertise on blogs? If so, which ones? How about blogs that are consistently or occasionally critical of pharma? Should companies publish blogs themselves? Should they respond with comments to posts that impact them?
  • Emergence of new platforms such as cell phones, PDAs, i-Pods. How should content be customized for new devices, e.g., does it make sense to create Podcasts?
  • Increasing emphasis on privacy and security. How should companies instill trust and create safeguards to encourage patient interaction? What data should be collected and how should it be safeguarded? What role is there for email marketing, given the level of spam and fraud?

Stay tuned to see how the industry addresses these issues. There is an opportunity to be innovative in this arena, but for the most part I think we can expect a fairly conservative approach.

May 17, 2005

One thought on “Pulling the plug on TV advertising for drugs”

  1. Restrictions on public advertising range from the sensible (cigarette ads), to the silly (beer commercials in which one is not allowed to see someone drinking beer).

    Ads for prescription meds often end up on the silly end. Either the script is ridiculous (TV Flonase spots), or the list of side-effects sounds, um, less than appealing (Viagra). There is a wonderful spoof ad for E-Trade in which a list of preposterous side-effects convinces a trader to dump a stock. The folks at Pfizer had to know, or should have known, their TV ads made for easy pickings for the satirists.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *