A New Advertising World – Part 1

Depending on your television viewing habits, you may have noticed a gradual change in advertising over the past few years.

Not too long ago, prescription drug manufacturers could not advertise on television.  Instead, they focused on trade/B2B magazines targeted to physicians and other medical industry professionals (as well as direct mail, trade shows, branded merchandise and samples).  I measured the effectiveness of literally thousands of these advertisements, in dozens of publications, over many years.  Print advertising rates are based on many factors, but are primarily driven by audience size (circulation quantity), quality (subscriber profile), page size, page color and frequency.

It was quite apparent that these companies had large budgets when it came to advertising.  Instead of the standard one page advertisement with color, their advertising was often 4+ pages printed on heavy-weight glossy card stock.  And sometimes, they would advertise more than once within the same issue.  Because most people outside of the medical industry don’t have the opportunity to see this kind of advertising, what you also missed was a page or two (or more!) of contraindications.  That’s a fancy word for side effects, how the drugs interact with other drugs and conditions that would warrant avoiding the drug and complications that could arise as a result of taking it.

Fast-forward several years and regulations have been lessened to allow drug manufacturers to advertise on television.  Most drug manufacturers jumped at the chance to advertise on television because it brought prestige to their product.

The biggest change is that they’re no longer targeting the doctors and medical industry professionals but the end-consumers and patients.  “Ask your doctor about [drug name here]” is the new normal.  They’ve altered the marketing dynamic by creating consumer demand to supplement physician knowledge.

What hasn’t changed?  The need to incorporate the contraindications as part of the advertising.  So the same commercial that spends time praising the amazing benefits of the drug being advertised must also spend time telling you all the bad things that could happen too.  While it’s probably a good thing that they have to disclose that information, they’re sharing it with those who aren’t qualified to make complicated prescription decisions.

Is having to include negative information in the commercial ultimately hurting their marketing efforts?  There’s certainly an increased volume of television commercials for prescription products.

Why do you think they’re working?  Do you think people simply tune-out that part of the message, or is there some other reason?  Or, do you think they don’t work and the drug manufacturers simply have a budget large enough to advertise on television despite incorporating a negative message?

Part 2 on this topic has been published.


11 thoughts on “A New Advertising World – Part 1

  1. Great post! Some ads seem to gloss over the illness or condition they are targeted to manage/solve/cure. I find the disclaimers about side effects hilarious and may be worse than the condition they are designed to treat.

  2. Nice Blog Arthur. I think prescription advertising on television has to do with the glamourization that the medium has to offer… No worries once you take this drug you can run across fields carefree. Or be that super lover that you thought you always were… But really, it is all about the dream. We tend to zone out the details (aka side effects) and picture being physicially happy again. Television ads are more fun to watch than reading the small print in the 4 page magazine spreads. I would be curious to know if you have data on the type of responders to the prescription television advertising – demographics and if that is a segment of less likely DVR household. Another thought, and maybe this is for part 3 or 4 of the subject, have the prescription drug companies been advertising online, say at webmd.com, dr oz.com, etc, after someone is trying to diagnose oneself.

    • Thanks for reading and commenting Sheila! I’ve found most advertisers believe television to be the most glamorous advertising medium. As you suggested, it’s easier to sell the dream in a tv commercial than a print ad.

  3. I agree with Ed. The side effects often sound so horrendous even used in context of “may cause…” that I just chuckle and ignore. I believe one positive to the commercials is that it breeds a name awareness for consumers, who can then inquire with their doctors – which, let’s face it, brings the consumer one step closer to the sale… depending on the doctor.

    • Thanks for commenting and tweeting the post! It definitely has changed the marketing dynamic when consumer (patient) inquiry is part of the equation and it’s not strictly physician-driven.

  4. Art

    Love the pseudo-commercial you included with this post. It is spot on and very funny. I find it very annoying how these commercials always show up during the dinner hour where they discuss contra-indications like vomiting, etc which I don’t want to hear about while I’m eating. Most of the time I just switch the channel or fast forward if I’m watching a recorded program. I do think the initial sell of the commercial might get sufferers of the condition’s attention enough that they’ll pay attention to the name of the product and at least ask their doctor about it.


  5. Arthur,

    Great post. There is a ton of research that goes into these pharmaceutical commercials. Every, and I mean every aspect of demographics is researched to target the best audience and grab market share. They also play heavily on the overall psyche of the country. Too many people are looking for a pill or some other medication to relieve them of their stress, fear, anxiety, pressure of life and you name it. I don’t ever recall seeing one of these ads, which by the way, are getting WAY overplayed – offer any inner or more spiritual solutions. Everything plays to the external condition – forgetting that we are all body mind and spirit…. It’s all quick fix as long as my “symptoms” are relieved and I don’t have to deal with any other ineer or outer turmoil. People will take a chance that the side effects are worth it. Kinda like the squirrel and the squirrel trap. Hunger cancels out the fear of being caught. Keep up the good work – hope all is well.


  6. Pingback: A New Advertising World – Part 2 | Arthur Catalanello Consulting

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s