Pharma: Should DTC TV Have A Place In Your 2010 Budget?

Everyday it seems that someone is reminding us of the demise of traditional DTC TV and broad based media in favor of the web and social media.

While web 2.0 continues to power health care today–critical to consumer health care information learning and sharing (How Social Are HC Consumers with their Info)–there are many who believe that traditional TV (when creatively executed) can still play a vital role, as part of the media mix, to help ‘surround the consumer’ and drive awareness, education and action, including engagement online and off. ( Trend Report 2009, MedAd News DTC Alive and Well,  May 2009, Magna Forecast, 2009

  • Interestingly, the recent debut and success of’s traditional TV advertising on this year’s Super Bowl has many online leaders, including Amazon, Zappos and Kayak, reconsidering traditional agencies and offline tactics to help create ‘fast’ awareness and define more broadly what they do (Adweek: Online Brands Turn to Traditional Ads)…”What we’ve found is that if we layer in a little bit of off line brand advertising, it improves  the ROI of our online direct response campaigns,” Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh said. (Many Pharma brands have also found this to be true; TV helps drive web efficiencies in addition to generating quick awareness and MD requests…) 
  • With the economic woes, it seems that more people are actually staying home and spending time in front of the tube–According to Nielsen, the average American watches 151 hours of TV in a month, an all time high (Daily Orange News).
  • TV advertising continues to illicit a high degree of take action and trust. The 2009 Rodale Prevention Study reports that on average 33% of people who see any DTC ads talk about the specific medicine with their doctor that hey saw or heard advertised. (The eight year average is 33%, though the last four years have seen more year-to-year volatility. BTW, the study also shows continued growth of web use: 37% report discussing medical information they found online with their doctor.) Further, according to the latest Nielsen Global Consumer Survey: 62% of consumers said they trust TV advertising, equal to or better than all other forms of advertising, including print, radio, online banners etc. (but not equal to recommendations from people they know or from virtual friends)
  • Over the last few years, the TV industry continues to experiment with some very interesting and creative formats to drive impact and engagement. (Adweek: Networks Try New Ways of Getting Viewers to Watch Ads; TV Ads are Less Effective)

Last week, I stumbled upon Wayne Attwell’s blog Integrating TV with Online Marketing where he was talking about how traditional media advertising (in this case TV), with it’s diminishing efficacy and relevance, could be integrated into the new online marketing model.  He was proposing that marketers forgo the traditional ‘reach and frequency’ model in lieu of using the medium to introduce consumers to the online information pathway.  And then let the online ‘word of mouse’ take over assuming a quality product etc.

All this got me thinking about the use of TV in Pharma and whether it still offers an opportunity especially as DTC budgets shrink and there seems to be less and less mega brands and their corresponding ‘mega’ budgets.  Additionally, the increasing economic and generic pressures for branded pharma overall, are negatively impacting ROIs across the board, and expected to continue.

This all suggests that any use of TV needs to be effective and efficient.  Thinking about Pharma and Healthcare marketing, and the recent changes brewing in TV advertising, there now seem to be at least six different ways of executing TV:

  1. Traditional Branded TV ads to drive awareness and MD requests. Branded TV planning is executed against the standard ‘reach and frequency’ models, and read with continuous tracking studies measuring brand and advertising awareness, and importantly, take action and change in brand sentiment etc…Likely, the branded TV campaign is part of branded print (beyond fulfillment of DDMAC regulations) and web banner ads, sponsorships, SEM etc.  This is the most expensive use of TV advertising and requires the largest media commitment.  But despite all the noise, TV can be very effective in driving brand awareness and action for the right target audience and product.
  2. Unbranded Direct Response TV ads to drive response via a free informational offer or incentive. DRTV is generally bought on a cost per lead (CPL) and cost per qualified lead (QPQL) basis. Once consumers respond via phone or web, they can opt-in to further branded and educational relationship marketing streams. Since the only focus of these ads is to educate, communicate and romance an offer, they are generally the most efficient from a lead generation perspective and ensure motivated ‘hand raisers’ (much like the concept of web search…reaching a prospective patient who is interested enough to take action).  Unbranded ads can also appeal to a different segment of consumers who prefer to educate themselves and experience less “advertising sell” than those motivated by branded ‘sell’ ads.

Another positive of DRTV is that it can generally be purchased with less lead time than print or network TV buys, and can be quickly ‘turned off’ if lead generation objectives aren’t met.  Because lead gen is the primary objective, media budgets can be effective with a few million dollars or scale to larger dollars, but DRTV ads aren’t competing to break through the clutter the same way that traditional branded ads have to. On the negative side, DRTV inventory can be an issue during certain times of the year or events, making it difficult to clear the number of ads that a brand may want to run to reach its lead gen goals. Further, because of the multi-step approach involved in opting-in to RM materials, time to action is generally less immediate than for a branded TV ad.

  1. Direct Response Hybrid Branded TV ads to drive awareness, MD requests, but also some response to an informational or monetary offer. This type of ad may also be bought with a combination of traditional Reach and Frequency and/or Direct Response.  From my experience, the hybrid is just that, and will generally not achieve as efficient CPLs because there is less time dedicated to romancing the offer due to DTC fair balance. So it comes down to the particular brand’s objectives (and in pharma’s case often how much fair balance) whether this type of hybrid TV ad is viable or preferred vs. branded alone or offer only.
  2. Branded Entertainment and Promotional TV adsto generate explosive awareness and drive online marketing and engagement. Here the goal isn’t the standard reach and frequency, but to incite the target’s attention and drive them to the web and/or social platforms for further dialog and relationship building. Often controversial in nature, these ads are developed, less for continuous and multiple exposures, and more for immediate impact and shorter runs. The difficulty here is that it can be hard to predict whether a particular campaign will generate the WOM or ‘word of mouse’ needed to pull off this kind of strategy, not to mention the production cost of TV ads these days…

Marketers outside pharma are aggressively experimenting with branded entertainment, including new ad formats in online TV shows, ads embedded in VOD, interactive TV ads and more…Assuming an excellent product/service, if a brand can produce a truly entertaining TV ad that ignites buzz and swift response of target consumers to continue the conversation off line, then Pharma can reduce overall TV media spending while still using TV for strategic advantages: immediate broad reach and bang…

5. Advertainment TV ads to encourage greater consumer interaction with TV content. The essence of Advertainment is the last minute addition of information to a TV ad in order to increase the topicality of the ad and to create an “as live” feel to communications. A major benefit is that it creates additional reward for the viewer, which can be either information-led or prize-led. Advertainment also allows an interaction with customers by using technology that updates the message on the ad throughout a program. Alternatively, advertisers can run a series of live interactive promotions during the ad breaks where viewers can vote via TXT, SMS, online or telephone. EG. Fuller’s London Pride (beer) used advertainment TV to break through during the Rugby World Cup. The advertainment technology allowed Fuller’s to incorporate the latest match scores within their ads during half-time and full-time- giving viewers communication with real currency. By the end of the campaign the brand had achieved its highest sales and brand share.Other E.G., Ford Focus, Action-ManAction Figures.This kind of advertising also has the potential to add value to an existing communications strategy and make the TV experience, and the brand, more exciting and surprising for the viewer, creating impact and WOM/PR opportunities. (Source: UK TV Toolbox,

6. Reality TV ads seek their inspiration from documentary and reality TV techniques for innovative ways to emotionally engage consumers. E.G. For smokers trying to quit, a major comfort factor and motivator is knowing that others are having similar experiences. In Europe, Nicoquitin found a real-life quitter and aired her video diary in real time on TV, from her decision to quit onwards. These reality TV ads were broadcast in spots where the message would be most pertinent. People were engaged by the woman’s journey; the brand achieved cut through in a cluttered market. Results:173k people pressed red to find out more, sales increased by 40% and tracking showed that the ad succeeded in maintaining peak season awareness levels out of season (Source: UK Innovative TV ad formats

Building on existing local events and targeted marketing, Verizon FiOS took reality advertising one step further, creating My Home2.0 makeover/reality show that documents tech-challenged families learning to use the screens, gadgets, and tools that FiOS enables. The show provided a platform to unite previously disparate efforts, and to provide communications stream reflecting the family’s stories-on line, on TV and in person-with FiOS as a subtle superhero. A third example: MTV partnered with Dove and Alicia Keys on a five-part micro-series that aired during breaks in The Hills and followed the lives of three young roommates in New York. (Source: Adweek Don’t Touch That Dial. Networks Try New Ways)

2010 Planning:  While web and social media budgets will undoubtedly increase, and should, TV’s proven effectiveness for certain targets shouldn’t be overlooked.  What role should TV play:  awareness, response, entertainment, story-telling, engagement? Which of the above type(s) of TV ads make the most sense to help a brand achieve its objectives?

I’ve been part of many successful integrated TV campaigns. Recently, I was part of a new marketing effort for a small brand that stopping direct response TV in favor of a web and in-office marketing program… only to be disappointed with prescription sales…so it suggests to me that a well executed TV campaign can still be a viable element in the media mix.  The question is how to drive maximum effectiveness and efficiency…how for TV companies, clients and agencies to work together to create new ways to engage today’s healthcare consumers…and how to continue the conversation online and in Social Media platforms.

Thoughts or considerations?

4 thoughts on “Pharma: Should DTC TV Have A Place In Your 2010 Budget?

  1. Important concept here. A little offline goes a long way online. Bear in mind the generational differences still present in social/business world today. Older population still using more traditional forms, but becoming ever more accepting of new mediums and using the older mediums to guide them there.

    • Hunter,

      Thanks for your comments. Experimenting with more efficient use of tv to drive online will be a future option with smaller budgets…agree with you that we’ll need to watch the 55+

  2. Great post that emphasizes the breadth of tools in the marketer’s toolbox. TV remains a compelling channel (no pun intended) at the top of the proverbial marketing funnel. It still is and can be an effective tool for driving awareness, it’s just not the big budget spend and result boom of old. When in concert with other medium (microsite, PPC, social, online display advertising) it can make a great marketing campaign with very positive results. One example I like (but admittedly don’t have metrics to back it up) is from Sanofi-Aventis for the AmbienCR product. TV commercials, yes, but interactive games and video clips online too. Not much social yet but it is a branded site.

    Bottom line it will be compelling to watch how the pharma companies evolve here. Thanks for the thought provoking post as always!

    • Adam,

      Thanks for your comments. I enjoyed silencing the rooster game-would luv to see the results- I also now know where to go when i need a few minutes diversion after (or on) a bad call:)…looking forward to seeing how pharma tv evolves with online…

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