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DTC in Perspective: PhRMA Gets Bold

February 3, 2017 by Bob Ehrlich0

This week many drug CEOs met with President Trump to discuss pricing and innovation. In just two weeks Mr. Trump has sat down with a number of business leaders to push domestic investment in job creation. He pushed the drug makers to build factories here and get control of drug prices.

In return Trump promised to promote speedy approvals at FDA following his early push across industries to reduce regulations hampering business growth. Based on drug stock prices after the meeting ended it seemed to go well. Mr. Trump wants to love drug companies but to continue that fond view he asks for lower prices and domestic job creation as part of the deal. He seemed to be willing to find ways to lower prices without a heavy handed price negotiation through Medicare. Mr. Trump is not surprisingly making industry uneasy while at the same time offering rewards for cooperation.

Bob Ehrlich
“I applaud PhRMA and Y&R for going boldly in their ad.”
-Bob Ehrlich

The drug companies know that having a public image that is suffering, with both parties in Congress willing to stick it to them on price, and a President saying they get away with murder is a risky environment. So in that context the drug lobby premiered a new television campaign pushing its commitment to drug research. The ad was created by Y&R New York.

The new GoBoldly spot is very different from past PhRMA efforts. Traditionally ads plugging drug makers were kind of clichéd with stories about caring people working tirelessly to save lives. It is not that the ads were portraying the wrong message, just that they were executed in an ineffective way. The new spot also shows researchers hard at work but does it in an attention getting manner.

The ad uses the well known Dylan Thomas poem “Do Not Go Gentle into that Good Night” and adapts it to a drug research context. Read by a British voice over actor the spot has serious stopping power. It shows researchers not accepting failure as they go boldly to find cures. It is impossible to ignore when it comes on. What is very different is that the audio voice over is only the poem, while all the drug research copy is on the supers. It is a very dramatic portrayal.

Whether it will change attitudes about drug companies is hard to predict but it will get awareness. A great television ad is a start but hopefully this campaign is only the first part of a prolonged consumer effort to change attitudes. A print, radio, and web campaign is also in the mix.

That media and PR effort should address price. Americans already believe drug makers invent needed cures. This type of ad is going to get noticed but also prompt the skeptical query about price. When the President says drug makers must lower price, and Congress, consumerists, insurers, and providers agree, even a great ad is only just a start.

I applaud PhRMA and Y&R for going boldly in their ad execution. Shunning the usual voice over announcer saying how dedicated drug companies are and instead trying a breakthrough creative approach is a nice change. The drug makers have some explaining to do beyond their efforts to find cures. Telling Americans that great research costs a lot is a hard sell given Canadians and Europeans get the benefits at prices 30-50% less.

Trump may be on to something that perhaps creating thousands of new manufacturing jobs might help make higher prices a bit more palatable. I think drug makers know that Trump and other constituencies are looking for more than the usual explanations on how research is costly. Trump understands that cutting development costs in terms of approval times means more sales under patent protection and more room to deal on price. I sense that he will be dogged in ensuring that Americans see a tangible price benefit to his regulation easing.

Trump knows the art of cajoling. While many see him as bullying I think CEOs know he is just posturing to get a good deal.


Bob Ehrlich

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