Does Pharma Have A Problem With 'Ask Your Doctor ...'?

Nearly every pharmaceutical TV ad ends with, “Ask your doctor about [drug brand] by name.” 

Makes sense from a pharma marketer’s perspective on several fronts. 

1. People can’t know whether a prescription drug is right for them without visiting a physician and receiving a prescription. 

2. Pharmaceutical sales reps get minimal personal time in front of physicians to sell their drugs, so leveraging direct-to-consumer vehicles helps circumvent this dynamic.

The perceived problem with the “Ask your doctor” call to action is that it’s not sufficiently delivering pull-through. According to a 2016 STAT-Harvard poll, only 7% of consumer respondents were motivated to talk to their physician about a prescription drug they saw on TV, down from 21% in 2015. The poll also indicated that 57% of U.S. adults support ending Rx drug TV advertising.

We know that consumers are tuning out Rx drug TV ads, are upset by escalating drug prices, and place very little trust in the pharmaceutical industry. So, one might be curious as to why pharma TV ad spending is increasing by 21% this year, according to Kantar Media. Did you know that “nine Rx drugs are on pace to break $100 million worth of TV ad time” in 2016, according to Stat News?



Clearly, this last fact illustrates that broadcast TV advertising is still the best medium to drive awareness quickly to the widest possible audience demographic when marketing an Rx drug in the United States. 

Another big reason TV advertising is still a key sales driver for pharma is the Internet. The vast majority of people exposed to a prescription drug TV ad that may be relevant to them will use the Internet first and foremost to get questionsanswered about a treatment before asking their doctor. 

This “Internet-assist” can be beneficial to pharmaceutical marketers because it provides them with a platform beyond the TV screen to continue driving people to learn about a drug and provide condition education so they can have more informed conversations with their physician about a relevant treatment that a 60-second spot can never accomplish.

Although consumers have expressed disdain for pharmaceutical TV advertising, the channel still yields effective returns for pharma marketers as long as TV remains the “first screen” in people’s lives. Hence, DTC Rx TV is, and should remain, an important part of pharma marketers advertising toolkit for reaching consumers.  

The bigger challenge to the continued reign of Rx drug DTC advertising comes from physicians.

In 2015, the American Medical Association called for a ban on Rx DTC advertising stating, “Today’s vote in support of an advertising ban reflects concerns among physicians about the negative impact … that marketing costs play in fueling escalating drug prices.”

There is no panacea for pharma to change physician sentiment regarding the industry’s aggressive Rx DTC advertising tactics and budgets. There are, however, opportunities for pharma to better meet physicians’ needs for more transparent access to drug and pricing information.

The Healthcast “2016 Physicians Voices – Insights Pharma Needs to Know” study identified key information and experiences that pharma can do a  better job of providing physicians access to,  enabling HCP’s to make the best treatment decisions. A high-level summary of needs from the study are:

  • Online platforms where physicians can access information on older drugs that are still highly effective treatment options and less expensive than new products coming to market
  • Information on patient support programs, “particularly when a patient cannot afford them (Rx drugs)” 
  • Online KOL video libraries that can be accessed by physicians on-demand
  • Printed question-and-answer materials from KOL’s across a wide range of conditions and treatment portfolios

As physician’s support for Rx DTC advertising continues to erode, pharma marketers should seriously consider new and alternative ways to meet the information needs of physicians, as well as stimulate treatment dialogue between physicians and their patients. Although this will not stop HCP's drive for a ban on Rx DTC advertising, it is a stepping stone towards pharma cultivating better relations with physicians, as all players in this ecosystem work individually and together to meet the demands generated by the unstoppable march towards a patient-centric and outcomes driven world.

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