Can Big Pharma’s Reputation be Turned Back Toward the Light?
If you are one of the households still watching television programing, you know pharmaceuticals feature big on their amount of ad time. As we get closer to summer and the Dem and Republican Party National Conventions, there may be a battle between political and pharma ads to see which fills in more time between programming.
And all those commercials, on-air, in print, and elsewhere, cost big money for the drug companies, which translates to customers paying more for the drugs they receive too. Sure they say it’s because R&D is so expensive, but sometimes it seems more like the drug companies are not just gouging with their prices, but they’ve moved in a big 18-wheeler to fill up from consumer’s pockets.
Take for instance the recent issue when Turing Pharmaceuticals and their CEO, Martin Shkreli adjusted the price on a cancer and aids treatment drug increasing the out-of-pocket charge by 5,000 percent. It was so flagrant that he faced criminal charges and was called in to testify before Congress.
John Mack, publisher and editor of Pharma Marketing News, said, “The tobacco industry and the oil industry are probably the only two industries who have worse reputations than the pharmaceutical industry. There’s no advertising on TV for the tobacco industry anymore, so I could see why there are calls to ban TV advertising for prescription drugs.”
New Zealand and the U.S. are the only two countries that permit direct-to-consumer (DTC) prescription drug advertising. According to Kantar Media, in 2014, the industry in the U.S. spent $4.9 billion in advertising and in 2013, $4.2 billion.
After the Super Bowl ad this year from Xifaxan for irritable bowel syndrome showing an animated pink intestine character, the FDA announced it would begin a study relating to animated figures in drug advertisements, their impact on consumer’s outlook, and if such characters reduce consumer’s understanding of possible side effects and benefits. Experts in the Pharma industry didn’t like that. Bob Brown, Director of account services for Bryant Brown Healthcare, a healthcare marketing agency, said “Marketers should be able to consider whether something is the most effective communications method. I’d hate to see aesthetic choices hampered by legislation.”
Big Pharma may want to reconsider their marketing and PR strategies. Spend more time showing what charitable efforts they support, let people who receive free drug treatment, as sponsored by many of the pharmaceutical companies, share the difference it made to them as they received costly drugs at little or no cost, when they might have used all their insurance benefits, or found themselves on the verge of bankruptcy because of a major health crisis in their family.
Pharma might study ways to make stories more touching than just someone saying they can now stay more alert because they used one drug over another. Look at the real-life stories instead of animated characters grasping first their belly area and then behind them. Those ads are clever but do they inspire confidence that the drugs won’t do lasting damage as well as solve temporary problems, or that all Big Pharma really wants is Big Bucks. Unless the industry stops acting like snake skin oil salesmen and starts showing deep human concerns and caring, they might soon find themselves in the same situation as Big Tobacco companies, banned from advertising.