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DTC in Perspective: The Pace of Media Change

April 17, 2015 by Bob Ehrlich0
Bob Ehrlich
“Mass media may not be sexy any more..but…works.”
-Bob Ehrlich

I asked noted advertising critic Bob Garfield to speak at the DTC National last week. As usual Bob basically said media as we know it is dead and we are all missing the radical shift from mass to targeted advertising. In the Q&A, I told Bob that for our Industry the reality is that DTC shifts have been very gradual and television and print still dominate the media budgets.

He is absolutely correct that my grandchildren will view media much differently than I do or did growing up. The issue here is the time frame and the impact on drug and device marketers over their planning horizon. While all drug marketers need to recognize the power of big data, social media, web search, and other growing health media opportunities, we still need to acknowledge that mass is where DTC marketers spend 60-80% of their media money.

The media gurus try to make drug marketers feel like they are missing the boat on targeting. They are right to point out the opportunities but wrong in the assumption that drug marketers somehow are blind to those changes. The drug marketers absolutely recognize that more targeting is a key goal and a preferred use of media dollars. They also know that mass media delivers a good ROI and that these media observers really do not know how to optimize DTC spending.

We do have emerging techniques to make television more effective. Some of those were presented last week and well received. Our target group is generally older, less reliant on newer technologies, and watches lots of television. They still read magazines and newspapers. While the next generation will behave very differently, most product managers are working in a two-three year horizon. That means a very gradual decline in mass media reliance.

So gurus like Bob earn their living making marketers feel uncomfortable and inadequate. That is why they get invited. They are there to make us self critical. Even when they are wrong, the idea of having them speak is to force us to question our marketing approach. Are we moving fast enough? Are we demanding enough from our agencies and media partners? Are we set up organizationally to capture customer data and insights?

Eventually folks like Bob Garfield will be right. Oil will one day be back to $100 a barrel, gold will hit $3000 an ounce, and mass television and print will be radically altered. Should drug marketers feel they are too slow in adapting? Are we so conservative that we are blinded to the new realities? The answer is no. Drug marketers are just as smart as fashion, auto, electronics and soft drink marketers. The difference is recognizing that pace of change varies considerably by industry. Drug marketers should embrace change if and only if it gets the job done in terms of motivating patients to use their drugs.

The idea that each DTC media budget allocate money to experimentation makes sense. That does not mean, however, that we should rush into a dramatic shift towards the hottest technique. Mass media may not be sexy any more, but as marketers we do what works, and that is what counts.

Bob Ehrlich


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