Pharma: Are Current DTC Ads Meaningful?

I just finished reading Bob Gilbreath’s new book “The Next Evolution of Marketing. Connect With Your Customers By MARKETING WITH MEANING.” Given my roots in package goods consumer marketing, I found the book and the examples ‘meaningful’…

I whole heartedly agree that the next evolution in marketing is to move from ‘telling and selling’ to providing value and ultimately, to improving people’s lives.  I think too, this is one reason that so many consumer package goods marketers made the move to pharmaceutical and healthcare marketing-to help save and improve people’s lives and well being…

What are marketers to do when consumers are not just immune to our messages, but they’re ignoring us completely?

Create marketing that’s meaningful.

What is meaningful marketing?

When your marketing is meaningful, people choose to engage with you in an exchange that they perceive as valuable. But engagement is only the beginning. Whatever your product or service may be, when your marketing is meaningful, the marketing itself adds value to people’s lives, whether or not they immediately buy what you’re selling. (This may cause a few gulps…but Bob Gilbreath goes on to promise that this is not just cause marketing…To be sure, making money and moving product are still the goal; if they aren’t, it’s not marketing.)

The bottom line for consumers is that they expect more from their brands on many levels–and the marketing with meaning model will help bring marketing more into the value equation.

Jonathan Richman at Dose of Digital wrote about some great ideas for pharma brands to consider and explore using marketing with meaning. So I thought I’d try something a little different to spark some further thought and dialog.

I took a look at DTC print ads over the last month  to see how they stack up to the book’s Hierarchy of Meaningful Marketing.  Now we all know that looking at one DTC ad doesn’t capture the ‘whole brand’s story’.  The print ad is only one step to driving action to the brand (or unbranded) website for more information and engagement…and a brand can run a ‘campaign’ of different ads (branded and unbranded), and use multiple media channels to tell a richer story…but it’s a start.

And, if “every single interaction between a brand and a consumer is a marketing moment of truth” (Peter Blackshaw), is it not fair to look at what may be a brand’s first touch, a DTC ad?

Yet, I feel the need to make at least one caveat.  Having sat in many a focus group for pharma brands, I can honestly say that for many consumers with a medical condition, or for their caregivers, learning about a new prescription product that may provide pain relief or prevent damage, is a HIGHLY valuable solution. This is an important distinction when evaluating DTC ads vs other ads for well known consumer goods…Additionally, unbranded ads have an easier time of providing more connected solutions by the nature of their goals and extra space due to lack of fair balance!

Having said that, I looked at the branded DTC print ads running over the last month in a variety of consumer publications (e.g., news, women’s service, health, people, teen). I reviewed 35 print ads and attributed them to Gilbreath’s three tiers of marketing that are increasingly meaningful to consumers:

  • Solution marketing. Like the lower levels of maslow’s hierarchy of needs, solution marketing covers basic household needs and benefits, for example, helpful offers, money savings, and hard rewards for purchase.
  • Connection marketing. this represents a significant step toward building a bonding relationship between people and brands. It provides benefits beyond the basics of information and relevance to include something that is of deeper importance in the consumer’s mind, ie., social outlets and creative expression.
  • Achievement marketing.This corresponds to maslow’s pinnacle of self-actualization by allowing people to significantly improve their lives, realize a dream, or positively change their community and their world.

Here’s What I found:

Not surprising, most DTC print ads fall into the first tier-Solution marketing- by providing information and a trial incentive to encourage the first script. Many only make the first tier with the assumption that they’re providing valuable information to help patients with their ‘physiological and safety’ needs through attribute and benefit messaging.

Of the 35 ads, I bucketed 31 into Solution marketing, of which 14 offered a trial incentive. (Of the ads with trial incentives, AcipHex, BenzaClin,  Symbicort and Yaz did the best jobs insuring that interested consumers would see the offer, and others like Concerta and DePuy used a BRC to help drive lead generation and trial offer engagement.)

In my opinion, four branded DTC print ads fell into Connection marketing, having made a stronger step toward building a bonding relationship between people and brands:

Crestor: focuses not just on the pill, but on the Crestor kit: information, tips and trial incentives. They also offer an interactive tour of an artery. (Can more be done to leverage consumer to consumer sharing, provide additional customization opportunities, and to continue to make heart health a wee bit more entertaining/fun?)

Epiduo acne treatment: highlights the interactive ‘pathway to confidence’ contest where they asked teens for ways that they build confidence. (Website very fresh. Can more be done to leverage this important idea about building confidence in teens which has the potential to be life changing?)

Toviaz: focuses not only on the pill, but the plan that can be shared with the doctor (Can more be done to provide more stuff for consumers to share with each other, more customization opportunities, and more fun, entertaining web interactions?)

Viagra: takes a different approach vs prior ads. This ad speaks to real insights and concerns for men, and speaks less about Viagra benefits and more about how to broach ‘the talk’ with their doctor. The ad also provides a fresh learning approach that may be able to be further leveraged on their website.

None of the branded DTC ads I reviewed accomplished what I believe Gilbreath was speaking to with his third tier: Achievement marketing…Of course there are other DTC programs in the market place that may have just not ran branded print this last month, or don’t use print in their media mix–the subject of another blog…

Click above images to view examples Ads/PDF download.
No doubt, a DTC print ad does not tell the whole brand story, and in many cases, consumers will go to the website where they may find more engagement and connection. Additionally, if the product is new, it may make sense to first communicate the brand’s benefits…

Having said that, it looks to me like there is ROOM FOR IMPROVEMENT. Pharma DTC print advertising can and should evolve to providing more than basic product benefits to providing richer experiences and connections for consumers to share and feel good about. Brands should  take an inventory of all of their DTC touchpoints- online and offline- to be sure that each are doing their best to both reinforce the brand promise, and provide maximum value to the consumer.

Time to move from just selling to also helping…

What do you think? Any good branded print examples I missed in my ‘non-scientific’ point-in-time review, or that you want to share? Other thoughts on creating meaningful marketing?