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November 23, 2015 Bob Ehrlich0
Bob Ehrlich
“The AMA wants to control the flow of drug information…” -Bob Ehrlich

The AMA announced through a statement on 11/17 that they just voted to support a ban on DTC advertising. They cited the causes as over-prescribing of more expensive treatments and rising prescription prices. The AMA is being hypocritical since doctors advertise directly to consumers. Insurance companies advertise health coverage to consumers. Labs and test centers advertise. Hospitals advertise. Dentists advertise.

AMA is not calling to ban ads for any of these health care services, just drugs. AMA is essentially saying consumers do not need the information provided in DTC ads because the doctor knows best. Consumers should remain uninformed of new drug options because they may ask for them and force compliant doctors to prescribe something they prefer not to. It seems they think their members have no ability to say no to an inappropriate consumer request.

The AMA wants to control the flow of drug information because it has this outdated notion that consumers are better off knowing less. DTC is advertised information, clearly done to spur drug demand. It is but one source of information for consumers. The savvy consumer knows it is advertising and is skeptical of the claims made. They are information hungry and may use DTC as a starting point to search out reviews of the advertised drug as well as alternatives.

The days of the all knowing doctor who only has patient best interest in mind are over. Doctors are human, sometimes not up to date on drugs, and they are busy. Sometimes they take the easy route and prescribe what they are used to writing. DTC forces doctors to be aware of what is advertised. If they have to answer patient inquiries on DTC advertised drugs then so be it and welcome to the information age.

Today we have competing financial interests in the health care industry. Payers want to pay less for drugs, consumers want the best medications, and doctors get caught in the squeeze between insurers and patients. Government is also involved in trying to reduce cost and would also prefer to keep patients out of the drug selection discussion.

AMA can call for whatever action they like but advertising is free speech. After almost 20 years of seeing DTC broadcast ads, you think they would have by now learned to deal with patients asking about drug brands. DTC will not be banned and AMA would help consumers more by doing studies on how doctor and patient can more effectively select and properly take drugs. Calling for a ban is easy to do but not very helpful for consumers. Hilary and Bernie will applaud, and use the AMA call for a ban as support for their anti-drug company rhetoric.

While DTC will not realistically face an outright ban, drug companies, advertising agencies, and media sellers need to be aware that there is a lot that can happen short of a ban. FDA can make advertising execution more onerous through more stringent risk and fair balance requirements, and Congress can use tax policy to restrict advertising deductibility. Everyone in the DTC space should be politically active, contact their Congressmen to oppose DTC restrictions, and understand Hilary is dead serious in her dislike for drug companies. There is very little political downside bashing drug companies so expect them to be a featured villain in the 2016 election soap opera.

November 23, 2015 Gregg Fisher1

By Gregg Fisher & Anthony Alvarez of The Stem

“We must deepen a case history to a narrative or tale;
only then do we have a ‘who’ as well as a ‘what,’
a real person, a patient, in relation to disease.”
— Oliver Sacks in “The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat”

Dr. Oliver Sacks was a great proponent of taking a humanistic and holistic approach to understanding patients and their afflictions. While he was specifically addressing neurology and the practice of medicine generally, Life Sciences companies can learn much from his emphasis on patient-centric inquiry – viewing patients from within the context of their personal lived experiences, delving into patient stories to understand how they got to be where they are and how they plan to move forward into the future.

Such understanding requires an intimate picture of the “patient journey,” and must encompass the physical, emotional and social course people take through “time” and “place”, including a patient’s experience at different touch-points in the healthcare system. Only this robust level understanding will shed light on “why” patients behave as they do, “where” they need the greatest help, and “how” to offer that help in ways that will connect and overcome the barriers that exist.

While patient-centricity is at the top of the agenda of most Life Science organizations, there is an urgent need for commercial teams to evolve their market research practices to cultivate a richer understanding of patients. But how do we cultivate this depth of insight?

Deepening patient understanding

Fisher-Alvarez-Nov2015-artworkThere is room for a variety of insight techniques to understand the patient journey. But one of the most powerful, yet under-used, is ethnography. Contrary to the way some people think about it, ethnography is not just interviewing patients at home (or doctors in their offices). Ethnography is a way of observing people and understanding them using a holistic perspective.

Ethnography helps us study how people experience their lives. Unlike traditional market researchers, who ask specific, highly practical questions, ethnographic researchers visit people in their homes or offices to observe and listen in a non-directed way. The goal is to see people’s behavior in highly personal and perhaps idiosyncratic terms. The act of observing helps us discover the complex, subtle, often unconscious ways that people make decisions, even when they cannot tell you themselves.

Unlike most consumer brands, pharmaceuticals have historically been insulated from the need to have a rich, immersive dialogue with their “consumers”– i.e., a patient in the care of a prescribing doctor, or a caregiver. Instead, pharmaceutical brands, and even much of the healthcare system, have treated the patient as more or less an object, labeled as “noncompliant” when not behaving in ways that others see as best for them.

A vital step in using ethnography is to rethink the business problem as a question about the patient, with the patient at the center. This requires us to stop looking at the market, the product, and the consumer from the company’s perspective and examine the patient’s perspective instead. For example, brands need to explore how patients feel living with their disease day to day, how it affects their self-image, their social lives, and their experiences of the health system. An ethnographic approach sees the choices people make as grounded in a coherent cultural context, not as rational or illogical.

Once you know more about how a patient experiences the world, you can start to diagnose the factors that undermine their relationship with your brand. For example, how does using your product affect them physically, emotionally and socially? How do they experience their relationship with prescribers and other healthcare providers? What barriers exist? What support services work for them or do not work for them? How do they like to engage? How do they interpret information that is being presented to them? How does your brand resonate with their goals, dreams and aspirations?

Ethnography in action

Here are two real-life examples of ethnography in action, one informing a go/no-go launch decision for a brand and a second driving a significant change in patient messaging and support initiatives.

  1. Patients Experience Empathy. One of our clients was concerned about the commercial viability of their new osteoporosis medication that was about to hit the market. Taking the drug by infusion meant that patients would have to think about treatment only once a year. But marketers worried that the target audience would balk at the idea of spending any time at all in an infusion center. After all, this would mean rubbing shoulders with patients with serious diseases like rheumatoid arthritis and cancer. But spending time with these women to understand their life stories revealed that many had themselves experienced bouts of hardship and illness. When we accompanied them to hospitals and clinics to test the waters at the infusion center, rather than being repelled by what they saw, they empathized and even identified with the other patients. They felt lucky to have such a mild condition that required so little of them, and saw their ability to overcome their own squeamishness as evidence of personal strength and resilience. They viewed the experience within the context of a life narrative that included the ability to survive difficulty. Therefore, we advised the company to alter their approach to the brand. We urged them to portray infusion therapy as a confident choice, in line with a sense of resilience rather than a desire for convenience. The executives in the company were convinced of the evidence and brought the drug to market.
  2. Quality vs. Quantity of Life. The maker of an orphan drug for a childhood genetic disease wanted to understand why some patients were quitting their treatment, despite gaining years of longevity and quality of life over previous generations. We got connected with some of these “lapsed” patients, as well as those who were generally adherent. We observed the dynamic between patients and caregivers as they explained the stringent disease management regimen that dominated and disrupted their lives. We saw their thoughts and feelings unfold though diaries and photo essays. What emerged was a view into a crisis of dramatic proportions. Like many teens and young adults, these patients longed to feel normal and unconstricted by the fears and expectations of the authority figures in their lives. But their crisis was compounded by a profound alienation that had always isolated them from their peers and from society at large. When they quit treatment, they quit alltheir treatment and left behind an identity as diseased, defective and limited. Deep in denial, they could experience, even if only for a short time, that sense of being unaware of their own mortality. With this understanding, we encouraged the company to see their mission differently. They should focus not just on messages about hope and longevity. They would need to build bridges back to the disease community. They would need to promote an inclusive identity that gave patients a sense of belonging within a context of self-care. They would need to help prepare caregivers to hand-off, and for patients to accept, the responsibility of managing their own disease. This would position the company as life-long partners in the patient journey, rather than promoters of good behavior. These insights informed the design of an overhauled patient support program, consisting of content, tools and services that support the patient throughout their lifetime with the disease.


Patients are people first, and their decision to maintain (or abandon) a relationship with your company or brand is motivated by the many facets of human experience, not simply functional/medical needs. They are influenced by a wide array of emotions, social anxieties, relationship issues and even aesthetic considerations.

When patient behavior is unexpected or confounding, that is often a clue that there is a disconnect between the consumer and the brand – at the level of product experience or brand proposition. While market data is vital to enabling brands to function, it cannot provide an explanation for why people do things in the ways they do them. Using ethnography, we can shed light on the context in which patients use a product as well as the meaning that product has in their lives to create the most compelling patient experiences.


About The Stem
The Stem is a global management consulting firm specializing in customer strategy and experience solutions. We provide Health brands with specialized expertise in strategy and innovation, insights + analytics, digital operations and execution support through a “networked consulting” model that draws on the industry’s leading talent. Please visit The Stem at


About the Author

Anthony Alvarez currently serves as Research Director with The Stem. He brings more than a dozen years of experience to his work as a user researcher, ethnographer and research moderator. He has a passion for understanding how people experience health and illness and developing actionable insights to support brand strategy, marketing communications and design. Anthony combines in-depth research expertise with digital communications expertise. Previously he worked as an independent consultant, at Hall and Partners and Sapient. Anthony has worked across a wide spectrum of Health clients including Novartis, Baxter, Ortho-McNeill, Questcor, Pfizer, Merck, Sanofi-Aventis, Novo Nordisk, Johnson & Johnson, and Eisai.

November 23, 2015 Cheryl Lubbert0

By Cheryl Lubbert of Health Perspectives Group

Lubbert-Nov2015-artworkAs we look back over the past year for lessons learned that we will take into the New Year, there are many we could choose: from celebrities on social media to controversial pricing. But based on our work with thousands of patients, helping to connect them with biopharma companies large and small, one of the top areas of concern right now is protecting their personal information.

This is not a concern that has impacted Direct-to-Consumer marketing historically, but the world is changing, and DTC is evolving. We are in the middle of an unprecedented shift in the way companies communicate with consumers, from a mass-media, one-way approach, delivering product information from the top down to drive demand, to a “me-media,” two-way model focused on the exchange of information for mutual benefit, powered by new technologies and evolving consumer expectations.

Research shows that consumers expect and want more two-way communications, especially as it relates to support. For example, a Manhattan Research study showed that 59% of online consumers expect the healthcare system to offer the same level of customer service they receive at a service-oriented company like Yet only 8% of online consumers say that pharma companies are providing a better customer experience than two years ago.

This new way of communicating poses many challenges for biopharma companies, including explaining complex medical data, navigating technology, and regulatory and legal oversight. But it also brings to the forefront a new challenge unique to this approach: consumer concerns about privacy, security, and transparency where their personal health information is concerned.

As a result, privacy and security are the top concerns we see moving into 2016. Though they both relate to how private information is handled, these two concepts are different, as defined by the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS):

  • Privacy is the right of an individual to make choices with respect to the collection, use and disclosure of their data.
  • Security refers to the safeguards – physical, administrative and technological – used to protect the confidentiality, integrity and availability of the data.

You’ve all heard the scary news about security breaches that send us frantically to our credit card statements and credit reports. First, it was data stolen from Target and Home Depot, and other incidents followed. Just a few weeks ago, we learned that hackers targeted JPMorgan Chase and 14 other companies, including The Wall Street Journal, pulling off the “largest theft of customer data from a U.S. financial institution in history,” stealing personal information of more than 100 million people, in a data breach described as “breathtaking in its scope and its size.”

Unfortunately, news like this has almost become routine. But consumers are taking the ease with which data can be stolen or misused to heart where their health information is concerned. This year we have heard time and again from patients that they want to share their health experiences and even their data and information, but they are worried about their privacy.

And who can blame them for being concerned? In a study in Harvard Business Review, the authors reported: “Though some companies are open about their data practices, most prefer to keep consumers in the dark, choose control over sharing, and ask for forgiveness rather than permission. It’s also not unusual for companies to quietly collect personal data they have no immediate use for, reasoning that it might be valuable someday.”

Even with the financial breaches mentioned above, according to the Identity Theft Resource Center, health care has been the most common area for data breaches in the past three years, and medical identity theft was up about 20% between 2013 and 2014.

Data concerns are impacting every corner of the healthcare, from electronic health records to health trackers. This year we conducted a survey through our online platform Health Stories Project, and we found that less than half of respondents are confident that the information in their Electronic Health Record is secure, and less than a third even know who has access to information in their EHR.

And in the Altimeter Study on Consumer Concerns About Data Privacy, consumers were asked about the data implications of fitness trackers, connected cars or connected home appliances, and how they could be used for a company to collect health data and sell it to someone else – and most did not give a positive review, expressing concerns about:

  • 78% if/where companies sell their data
  • 73% where companies keep their data
  • 68% how companies identify them as an individual
  • 67% who sees and analyses their data

So consumers have concerns about their data privacy, ranging from data selling, storage, and access to the ability to be identified individually. What can we as an industry do to address privacy and security concerns?

In addition to addressing the technical factors that keep data secure, biopharma companies can help their customers feel comfortable and confident sharing their health information by being transparent about how they will (and won’t) use it and how they will keep it private and safe.

The authors of the Harvard Business Review study I mentioned earlier summarized the role transparency will play: “In a future in which customer data will be a growing source of competitive advantage, gaining consumers’ confidence will be key. Companies that are transparent about the information they gather, give customers control of their personal data, and offer fair value in return for it will be trusted and will earn ongoing and even expanded access. Those that conceal how they use personal data and fail to provide value for it stand to lose customers’ goodwill – and their business.”

With growing concerns about privacy and security, the key is to plan all of your initiatives with the understanding that patients are sharing the most personal data they have when they share details about their health. As an industry, as we shift to a two-way model of communication with our consumers, it’s our responsibility to honor and protect that, and to communicate clearly how we are making that a priority and a reality.

November 23, 2015 Anne OBrien1

By Anne O’Brien of Remedy Health Media


I have been quite the content creator lately. My October wedding provided plenty of fodder for Facebook posts, reaching not just my friends, but friends of friends. I was providing entertainment that might otherwise have been provided by a commercial publisher, maybe by my company’s site, or maybe your brand’s content.

Free content creation has been a concern to publishers from the beginning of the internet. As marketers, we thought we would become our own publishers. At the turn of the century many thought advertising would become obsolete as brands could just use search to drive their target audience directly to their own content. But managing that content, keeping it current, making it relevant, engaging, and trusted has proven to be a bigger challenge than most marketers can manage with great success. The challenges in the pharma space are even more compounded.

Our counterparts in consumer goods have engaged resources that can make their products cultural icons, or part of the consumer landscape. Take Buick’s product placement deal with ABC’s Black-ish. The team at Dentsu Aegis’ The Story Lab was able to not just pull off a simple product placement, but to marry and fully integrate their client, Buick, into the storyline. In one episode the ad agency featured in the program is pitching the Buick account. Per Molly Peck, Buick Marketing Manager: “With any of these integrations, they allow us to be organically woven into a storyline. We get the benefit of being part of the program, so people are actually watching it as opposed to advertising where viewers often don’t watch it.” What a brilliant way to capture key copy points and articulate your brand value. Can you see that happening for an Rx product?

We certainly have a “higher bar” when marketing prescription products; so how will we maximize efficiencies, reach the most appropriate audiences and encourage patients to discuss our products’ treatments with their doctors in 2016?

Continuing the heavy mix of television will prove to be less impactful as even the older audiences are skipping ads on their DVR, using Netflix, Apple TV, and other devices to have more control. Many of my friends in advertising (and maybe you, too) will record all their programming simply because ad skipping is a more efficient way to watch TV.

In digging through reports from Nielsen and stories in the advertising trades, ad avoidance is focused on digital ad blocking technology. Reported by PageFair and Adobe, ad block usage has increased by 48% in the past year with 45 million monthly active users in the US. It is rare to hear stats on TV ad skipping and even more difficult to demonstrate who is paying attention to ads. TV remains a powerhouse but with 65% of U.S. adults having smartphones, and 45% having tablets, viewer distraction continues to be a challenge to marketers. Additionally “live TV” viewing by adults 18+ is down to four and a half hours per day – with 18-34 year olds spending 54% of their “media” time with TV.

Partnering or sponsoring the development of storylines about a condition relevant to your brand can be done on TV or in movies, but not without challenges (and good contacts like the team at The Story Lab have!). These tactics are fabulous opportunities for brands, but they don’t have the “legs” to sustain reach and awareness over time. Your advertising needs to be the thread that links the programming, requiring that the advertising message must do some heavy lifting. Beyond the legal requirements, DTC ads must be as engaging as the content surrounding them to ensure that they do not get skipped.

I have always been a firm believer in the catch phrase “content is king”. Is your creative strong enough to be king? Is it in an environment that complements the creative? Does it feel connected to the content… do they go hand and hand?

When I left Johnson & Johnson in 2007, I believed the real patients writing from had the most powerful stories to help others like themselves receive the best care possible and do all they can for their condition. I was confident those stories would also result in more visitor engagement with advertising. Today, Remedy Health Media’s team of producers and video experts are bringing powerful stories to life via short-form multimedia executions like Gay’s Rheumatoid Arthritis Live Bold, Live Now: Turning Points story. These stories are proven to have strong content and ad engagement. Results of a site survey found that:

  • 94% of respondents would recommend the story to others
  • 91% of respondents were inspired
  • 82% of respondents related to the story
  • 75% of respondents learned something new about the disease

The impact on the advertising is even more profound:

  • Respondents were 2x more likely to research the advertised medication online
  • Respondents were 2x more likely to talk to their doctor about the advertised medication
  • Respondents were 3x more likely to request a prescription for the advertised medication
  • Brand recognition of the advertised medication was 3x higher among Turning Points visitors

My 2016 prediction is there will be far more ad skipping, blocking, and avoiding, except where consumers are highly engaged in content that is sought out and relevant for their specific needs. If you need to relax and have a laugh and are also in the market for an Enclave Crossover, Black-ish is the perfect environment to be receptive to Buick’s message. If you are diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis, you may be interested in a TV series featuring a patient with RA, but more likely you will be connected and deeply engaged to learn how real people with RA manage the very real hassles that the condition presents in real life and how they overcame these obstacles.

Looking back, I made some big life changes in 2007, not only did the career move prove to be advantageous; the online dating plan did, too. I am very happy to report that, after 8 years, I sealed the deal with my favorite ad skipper!

November 19, 2015 Peter Friedman0

Stop the coughing before it becomes a social media plague.

By Peter Friedman of LiveWorld

Friedman-Nov2015-artworkIt’s taken a while, but the pharmaceutical industry has slowly realized the value of social media to reach caregivers, health care professionals, and patients to raise awareness and even track adverse events. According to the IMS Institute for Healthcare Informatics, only half of the 50 largest pharmaceutical companies worldwide use social media, and only 10 are on the Big Three: Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.[1]

But patients, caregivers, and healthcare professionals are, and they’re posting about everything from what they need to, questions and adverse events. Placeholder pages aren’t going to cut it in this world where those affected are quick to complain and slow to retract. For pharmaceutical companies, that means taking cautious steps when social media becomes a petri dish for a full-blown PR crisis. As a regulated industry, pharmaceuticals especially need to be prepared for a possible social media crisis. Here are a few precautions pharmaceuticals should take.

  1. Re-evaluate – or even stop – scheduled posts.

Schedules are great when everything is going smoothly. But during a crisis, what may seem perfectly innocuous in any other context could further ruffle feathers. In crisis management mode, stopping all scheduled posts, on every channel, can help you refocus the message, as can pulling the plug on paid social promotions. This is the time to make sure your message is being seen, undiluted.

Only after you’ve got a handle on the crisis can you resume social media scheduling, but you’ll want to make sure anything being posted is unlikely to throw gas on smoking embers (and when dealing with humans, they are easily reignited). And certainly watch any new posts until you’re completely sure the crisis is over, even involving the legal team as necessary to ensure new posts don’t create additional liability.

  1. Take a time-out.

While a time-out won’t work in the OR, it can work wonders in the midst of a crisis. When you need to buy some time to work on the company’s response, use a “pause post.” Basically, the pause post will be tailored to the situation and the person and make it clear that you hear and acknowledge the issue, you’re working on a response, and you’ll have an update at [insert date and time here] on [your site].

While this can be difficult if discontent has spread virally over social media, it’s still worth it – just don’t post the same response to everyone.

  1. Pick your battles – and your battlefield.

Sometimes, just one person is stirring the pot, and there’s a way to nip it in the bud: get that person on the phone, preferably employing the most compassionate person you have on staff (if the person who calls the irate party is rude and argumentative, the situation will deteriorate very quickly). Listen to that angry person; just simply ask what happened. Take notes, recap your understanding to that person, and then make sure you’re following through. Address the issue and provide the person with a resolution, not just an apology.

But if the problem has spread, you’ll have to herd the cats, so to speak, and get everyone on the same platform to open up a dialogue. The company blog is an ideal place to get everyone off social media and into a single spot. It’s easy to share with a link and allows for a longer response.

  1. Write a well-thought out response.

In pharmaceuticals, there’s no easy way to respond to a crisis. But as with other brands, there are ways to successfully respond and diffuse a bad situation.

First, answer the question head-on and own the problem. Acknowledge that there’s a problem; avoid “we’re sorry you feel that way” at all costs. Then, unless there is a critical factual error, don’t start explaining. Just acknowledge, take responsibility, and apologize. Acknowledge the experience, and keep the brand human – convey humility in your response, and make sure it reads like a human wrote it. Get the resident Devil’s advocate on your team to read the response and ask for the snarkiest reply possible – that may transform the message altogether.

And this can’t be said enough: make sure you run the response through legal, indicating that this is a rush job, to avoid any liability in the future.

  1. Stay on the ball – don’t drop it.

Managing the crisis doesn’t stop at posting a response. It’s important to follow up, monitoring social media channels and answering questions as they arise – and they will arise. Make sure that the link to the central discussion is easily accessible as well.

In pharma, it’s also very likely that the media will jump on a crisis, and the PR and legal teams will be key in ensuring the right message gets to the press. Keep track of industry articles, bloggers, and more, and make sure that if an outlet publishes incorrect coverage, someone is able to reach out to provide correct information. As bloggers post, reach out directly to them to thank them.

Ultimately, the most important thing is to let the public know that the company is learning from the experience. It will turn the crisis from “evil pharmaceutical company” to “compassionate pharmaceutical company” much faster.




About the Author

We hope you enjoyed this adapted excerpt from The CMO’s Social Media Handbook: A Step-by-Step Guide for Leading Marketing Teams in the Social Media World, by Peter Friedman, CEO and Chairman of LiveWorld. To read more, download a free PDF version, or buy the hardback or ebook via online booksellers. Connect with him @PeterFriedman.


November 16, 2015 Bob Ehrlich1
Bob Ehrlich
“Media reporting on DTC is heavily biased negatively…” -Bob Ehrlich

I don’t mean to sound paranoid but it seems to me that media reporting on DTC is heavily biased negatively. Maybe it reflects the media’s general anti-big business attitude. I recently came across a Los Angeles Times article on DTC, focused on risk communication. It is titled “Direct-to-consumer marketing is a scandal, can the FDA fix it?” The article from 9/18/15 is about how drug ads confuse consumers with medical language and overstate benefits through its pretty visual scenes.

The FDA has actively regulated DTC since its inception and continues to oversee what the ads say. They ensure fair balance and as any drug marketer knows, FDA reviewers are not rubber stamps for drug makers. This article is not very different from most critiques of DTC. The writer calls for more easily understood consumer language. Most drug companies are already doing that in broadcast and print. No drug maker is trying to obscure risks through some hidden plot to use medical terms.

My concern on how the media writes about DTC is when they use terms like scandal in the headline. This article never said what the scandal really is about. The writer presented no quantitative evidence of consumers being deceived by drug ads except citing studies that consumers do not fully understand side effects in ads. Scandal is a strong word that should be used judiciously. While it is certainly true drug ads are meant to sell products, these ads are rigorously reviewed by FDA for accuracy. Ads are not meant to be the only information on a drug the consumer sees. The consumer has easy access to many views on a drug’s efficacy and risk profile.

Consumers may not fully understand every warning or risk in an ad. They can look up more on the Internet and ask their doctor. This reporter makes DTC ads out to be some nefarious strategy to obscure risk. Yet what other advertising category is regulated such that half their ad contains warning and risk information. I admit there are legitimate concerns that DTC ads can be confusing. Drug makers and FDA want consumers to understand the ads. Most print ads now use a consumer friendly fact box style of risk information. Television ads are regulated to ensure risk communication is read at the same pace as benefits. FDA has done and is doing numerous studies to ensure ads are understood and in balance.

While scandal as a headline gets attention, the media needs to back it up with proof. Certainly the Los Angeles Times is happy to accept drug ads as a revenue source. Maybe they should refuse such “scandalous” ads in an effort to protect their readers. Somehow I doubt they would because DTC ads help their bottom line.

Bob Ehrlich, Chairman
DTC Perspectives, Inc.

November 6, 2015 Bob Ehrlich0
Bob Ehrlich
“89% want drugs ads to be approved by FDA…” -Bob Ehrlich

The Kaiser Family Foundation recently asked consumers about DTC advertising and drug affordability in a recent poll. There is some good news and bad news for drug advertisers in the poll. The good news is a 51% majority of Americans say DTC advertising is a good thing. While that is not an overwhelming mandate in support of DTC, it is not a bad number.

The concerning poll data was that 89% want drug ads to be approved by FDA before they air. The public has this false perception that drug ads are not well regulated by FDA. While FDA does not by statute pre-clear ads, almost all drug companies voluntarily submit ads before they air to get FDA comments. The drug companies must submit ads to FDA once they air but few will wait that long. No drug company wants to risk a punitive action by airing a violative ad because they face running corrective ads. The public can rest assured that FDA for all practical purposes does pre-review ads.

What is also concerning is that 57% say drug companies spend too much on advertising to consumers. They probably believe that drug companies raise prices to fund ads. As I have written before drug ad spending is only about 2% of revenue. Ending DTC would not cause drug companies to cut prices. In fact by lowering demand, a cut in advertising would probably cause drug companies to raise prices to increase revenue. This idea that drug ads raise prices is continually fueled by ignorant politicians who conveniently rail against drug marketing.

Since Americans think drug prices are too high anything that can cast marketing as the cause is a political winner. The poll said 63% of Americans want government action to lower drug prices. Of course we all want lower drug prices. That would be nice as would lower prices for a lot of things. Most Americans also want cures for disease and to be protected against future pandemics. While explaining the link between drug research and drug prices is complex, I am sure we as an industry could do a better job making the case.

While the poll found nothing shocking, the views of Americans on drug pricing and advertising guarantee it is a juicy election issue. That will keep drug company and advertising industry lobbyists busy fighting against threats of price controls and marketing bans. The drug industry does not deserve to be vilified but I am afraid that will be the case for a long time. All we can do is try to present the facts fairly.