A New Kind of Television Advertising - Patients Taking Action

Television advertising has transformed — and continues to transform — pharmaceutical companies’ relationships with consumers. In the late ’90s, regulators allowed pharma to participate in direct-to-consumer advertising (DTC) for the first time. Seemingly overnight, consumers began to recognize these companies and their previously unrecognized medications. 

Using television advertising to inform consumers about a clinical trial is another way to engage patients more directly. For consumers, it is a direct invitation to take action for their health. For pharmaceutical companies, it can help enroll patients quickly and maximize speed to market. 

Television advertising is not appropriate for every clinical trial, but when it’s used optimally it can complement every other tactic in your campaign. 



In order to ensure success, below are some parameters to consider, challenges to overcome and best practices to follow.

Only if the shoe fits

There is often both interest and apprehension about television advertising. “We need a lot of patient referrals, but television will cost too much!” Television can potentially deliver both scale and efficient ROI for a clinical trial if at least one of these parameters applies:

  • A significant portion of adults have the condition
  • Relatively few people will qualify, thus necessitating reaching large numbers of people
  • The enrollment timeline is aggressive, dictating an accelerated approach
  • There are enough physician sites in each of the media markets 
  • Physician sites are equipped and motivated to handle heavier referral volume in a timely fashion

For example: A cholesterol study that needs 1,000 patients across 50 markets in 6 months would most likely be a strong candidate for television advertising. However, a multiple sclerosis study with a smaller patient target population should prioritize other tactics.

If it were that easy, everyone would be doing it

There are definite challenges to television advertising:

  • Time Time is the most critical component for success. Time is needed to develop the right market media plan that delivers the most efficient cost per referral.
  • Volume management Physician sites have limited staff, limited call back abilities and appointment slots. Media plans must drive traffic but not overwhelm sites with referrals. Being flexible and fluid are key. On-going communication and stewardship is required, so that from start to finish, all its value is realized.
  • Budget A certain number of impressions are needed to drive response in television, and that cost can vary widely by market. To deliver meaningful on-air levels may mean a significant investment, especially in certain markets. 

The “Halo Effect” of Television

When weighing this investment, consider that broadcast advertising has a halo effect on almost every other outreach tactic. Many times during our campaign analysis we see other tactics performing most efficiently when broadcast is running. For example, in a recent cardiovascular events trial, digital’s cost per referral decreased 31% when television ads were running. Broadcast can positively influence the impact of any and all tactics. 

Best practices checklist

There are many similar best practices between patient recruitment and “traditional” television media buying:

  • Ensure high quality production values
    • Invest in insights to guide patient communication and media selection
    • Credibility for patients is key and pharma produces consistently high quality creative
  • Conduct a market coverage analysis, mapping out site locations to ensure optimal media coverage area.  This is critical for sites in markets that have media spill from surrounding markets.
  • Media schedules must reflect the resources available at the physician sites for timely referral follow up.
  • Avoid running efforts during the holidays so as not to incur pricing premiums, and overwhelming short-staffed sites.

Television advertising for patient recruitment continues to transform the relationship between pharmaceutical companies and consumers. It is a true win-win for both. For pharmaceutical companies, television advertising can help them meet critical, costly timelines. For consumers, it engages at a larger scale, with an opportunity that may improve their well-being. It is a unique kind of direct response advertising, one that empowers patients to take action for their health.

1 comment about "A New Kind of Television Advertising - Patients Taking Action".
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  1. Melissa Ilardi from TheraSim, May 20, 2014 at 11:47 a.m.

    Well stated points. The targeting capabilities continue to get better, and with cross-platform measurement, direct response advertising across mediums will continue to increase ROI's.

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