Increasing DTC in a Time of Trouble

J0410084There is news out from the Direct Marketing Association  as reported by Pharmaceutical Executive that forecasts that as the result of a number of events and issues, Direct-to-Consumer (DTC) marketing is poised to pick up quite a bit this year and continue for the foreseeable future.   The bulk of that growth is slated to take place in email and on the Internet.

Coincidentally, Pfizer received a warning letter from FDA’s DDMAC last week for on-line marketing activities related to Viagra because of an omission of risk information.   

And this build up is occurring at a time when Congress is poised, as I’ve been writing here often, to re-cast FDA and the pharmaceutical market and accompanying practices with significant reforms that will include DTC as recently evidenced by a call for 800 number inclusion for adverse event reporting by consumers on all DTC. 

From this, there are a few considerations for those in pharma marketing:

  • There is an opportunity to think ahead of the curve on DTC reform and begin enacting now prior to the legislation.  Analyze what is coming and respond now, then spread the word of your good actions to consumers and on the Hill; 
  • Even if you don’t want to get ahead of the curve, take extra care in DTC at this time as it is going to be subject to an extreme amount of scrutiny in the coming months on the Hill;
  • If you are going to get more involved in the Internet, do it with a comprehensive communications plan that goes beyond an ad campaign, but one that addresses all of the challenges of the unknown in the Internet and is crafted to avoid Warning letters, not invite them; and
  • Many of the reasons for falling sales have nothing to do with the level of advertising – consider also the roles of public relations and public affairs. 

Given the increased attention on DTC by both industry and regulators, there is plenty of food for thought for both sides. 

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1 Response to Increasing DTC in a Time of Trouble

  1. Dan says:

    Published on
    Your Television as you doctor?
    Often, usually on television, one viewing will often at times see an advertisement for some type of medication- usually one involved in a large market disease state and the commercial is sponsored usually by a big pharmaceutical company for a particular network. This is called direct to consumer advertising, and doctors would prefer they did not exist.
    Since 1997, when the FDA relaxed regulations regarding this form of advertising, the popularity of the creation of such commercials has greatly increased. The pharmaceutical industry spends around 5 billion annually on this media source now. Normally, the creation of such a commercial becomes visible to the consumer within a year of the drug’s approval, which raises safety concerns. And involves money spent that could be applied to greater uses, according t many, but we are dealing with a corporation here.
    The purpose of DTC ads is not education, in my opinion, as others have claimed. Any advertising of any type shares the same objective, which is to increase sales and grow their market and, in this case, for a particular perceived medical condition or disease state. The intent of DTC advertising is to generate an emotional response from the viewer, such as fear or concern, believing upon research that the viewer will then question as to whether they need to seek treatment for what may be an unconfirmed medical condition. Furthermore, the FDA has admitted that they are ignorant as far as the content of such DTC ads, in relation to their accuracy and clarity, as well as their effect on the health care system.
    DTC advertising is also a catalyst for and similar to disease mongering.
    Disease mongering is the creation of what some believe to be medical flaws, and illustrated by the creators through exaggeration and embellishments through media sources as an avenue for suc propaganda, as is often seen with DTC advertising. Yet the flaws may not be medical, but corporate creations of these questionable human ailments that do not require treatment, possibly, and may be an attempt to develop a particular medical condition to acquire profit. One of my favorite DTCs is the new indication for the use of an anti-depressant for a social disorder. This used to be called introversion, a term created by Dr. Carl Yung. And it is a personality trait, not a medical disease. There are other questionable medical conditions claimed in the contents of DTC commercials, as the creators wish to grow the market for a particular, and possibly fictional, disease state. Then there is baldness treatments advertised, as another example. Lifestyle meds are not treatment meds for illnesses, and should not be portrayed as such.
    Also, DTC ads discuss only one treatment option normally, so it seems, when likely several treatment options exist for authentic medical disorders. This should be left to the discretion of the doctor, as they assess your health, not your television or another media source. That’s why most of the world does not conduct DTC advertising, with the exception of our country and New Zealand.
    Finally, DTC advertising and its ability to influence viewers to make their own assessment instead of a medical professional remains largely unregulated, yet apparently effective for the DTC creators. People are prone to believe what they see and hear, regardless of whether or not it is actually true. Many, after viewing a DTC ad, seek out a doctor visit and request whatever product that was advertised, which makes things cumbersome for the doctor chosen for such a visit. So the doctor and patient relationship is altered in a negative way, because most DTC ads require a prescription.
    Medical information and claims of suggested health ailments should come from those in the medical field instead of the corporate world. Perhaps this will save some over-prescribing, which will benefit everyone in the long term. And the Health Care System can regain control of their purpose, which is far from financial prosperity.
    “Do every act of your life as if it were your last.” —- Marcus Aurelius
    Dan Abshear

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