I want my DTC

When you work in pharmaceutical marketing, direct-to-consumer (DTC) advertising of prescription drugs is a subject you come across every day. Following the U.S. movement into a DTC environment, Canadians too are eager to enter the field and 'push the creative envelope.' But before plunging in headfirst, we should step back and really assess DTC, its applications and the overall ROI.

When you work in pharmaceutical marketing, direct-to-consumer (DTC) advertising of prescription drugs is a subject you come across every day. Following the U.S. movement into a DTC environment, Canadians too are eager to enter the field and ‘push the creative envelope.’ But before plunging in headfirst, we should step back and really assess DTC, its applications and the overall ROI.

First, let’s talk first about what DTC actually means. In the Canadian pharmaceutical industry, DTC is limited to either a description by name, price and quantity of a prescription drug to the general public or creating awareness of a specific therapeutic category without reference to a particular drug. In the latter case, patients often have the option to learn more about a disease or condition by calling a toll-free number, visiting a Web site, taking a self-test or talking to their doctors. Generally, most DTC approaches make use of print ads, billboards, television, Web sites and public relations.

Knowing these limitations, where can DTC be used? Opportunities include creating or building up therapeutic categories through public awareness; being the first out in a new class of drugs; corporate branding initiatives; therapeutic branding initiatives; and supporting corporate dedication to a specific therapeutic area.

For an example of being the first in a new class of drugs, look to Celebrex, launched as the first COX-2 inhibitor in the arthritis market that offered benefits over existing medications.

An example of building a category can be seen in the Viagra story. Not only did Pfizer create and build the category for erectile dysfunction (ED), it was also able to get the corporate brand message out. This was done by using a fully integrated approach that included corporate advertising, on-page branded advertising, a Web site, a toll-free number and public relations. With DTC as an integral part of the marketing strategy, Pfizer essentially made ED an acceptable topic to speak about.

Another good example of where DTC hit a home run was the ‘FluPill,’ trademarked by Hoffmann-La Roche as part of the Tamiflu initiative. With only an eight-week window of opportunity each year, the main objective for this campaign was to create a lot of noise about the flu in a very short period of time so that patients would go to their physicians and ask for the drug. Again, this campaign helped to build a category by increasing public awareness of the flu in general.

In Canada, the main objective for DTC strategies is, more often than not, to build categories, not brands. By creating awareness of a category, it can be expected that if the category grows, increased sales of the product will follow. By making more people aware of a disease or condition and providing them the opportunity to obtain more information, category awareness strategies can impact the bottom line.

For instance, if you have a product that is currently achieving a 55% market share, by growing the category, you will likely get 55% of the expanded market. Remember, though, that if your product currently has only 3% of the category market share, you won’t want to spend the money on a DTC campaign that will fatten your competitor’s pocketbook at your expense.

Developing measurable objectives is key. Unless DTC efforts are accompanied by appropriate channel marketing techniques and an all-encompassing integrated marketing strategy, including efforts targeted at general practitioners, specialists, patients, and families, DTC tactics will not be beneficial to your bottom line.

As we move forward in the ‘I want my DTC’ environment, I remain a strong believer in an integrated approach to grow businesses. And, although DTC is now often considered in today’s pharmaceutical campaigns, I can’t help but step back, look at the big picture and always make sure that DTC is appropriate for any particular marketing campaign.

___________________________

Andrew Brest works in client development at Burlington, Ont.-based Interkom Creative Marketing. He can be reached at 1-800-565-0571 or abrest@interkom.ca.