According to a study conducted by DRG Digital’s Manhattan Research, online drug ads prompt consumers to talk to their doctor about a prescription medication just as often as traditional direct-to-consumer (DTC) TV ads, suggesting that pharma marketers should consider increasing their budgets for digital. These digital ads also have the added benefit of being highly-targeted and personalized towards individual consumers, however healthcare companies in particular need to tread lightly in this space to ensure compliance with regulations, among other factors.
“Increasingly, we expect highly-personalized experiences as consumers of goods and services, whether we’re buying shoes or seeking treatment for a condition,” said Rory Stanton, head of patient research at DRG Digital. “Digital advertising enables personalization – but advertisers need to be wary of the ‘creepy factor,’ especially when dealing with sensitive medical conditions.”
The Cybercitizen Health US 2018 study involved over 3,000 patients who were asked about their decision-making behavior when it comes to health choices. While more patients still recall drug ads they’ve seen on TV compared to those they come across online, other survey results suggest that digital marketing may be a better investment for pharmaceutical companies.
In all, 65 percent of patients included in the study reported that they recalled seeing TV ads for prescription medications in the past year. Twenty-two percent of these patients said they requested a drug by name at least once at the doctor’s office. While the percentage of patients who remembered seeing an online ad is lower at 49 percent, 42 percent had requested a specific drug before, suggesting the targeted digital promotions may have had a more robust impact on their awareness of a drug product.
“We’ve seen in our studies that advertising is really good at sparking that initial awareness,” said Stanton. “But websites are even more effective at getting patients to ‘ask their doctor,’ pharma websites most of all. So, the task for pharma brands is to utilize that advertising to drive patients to their digital properties while also investing in other touchpoints, like paid search and sponsored content on general health websites, to meet them in many places as they go about gathering information to make a treatment decision.”
However, the findings of the study suggest that TV and digital ads may lend themselves to increasing awareness in different disease areas. Patients diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, multiple sclerosis and hypertension were more likely to say they’d seen an ad for the drug they were requesting on TV, perhaps because these conditions largely affect older adults. In contrast, patients with asthma, type 1 diabetes and hepatitis C were more responsive to online ads.
One particularly good piece of news for pharma marketers was the finding that the more companies spent on advertising a drug, the higher patient awareness was of the treatment. For example, AbbVie’s arthritis drug Humira had the most TV spots of any drug in 2017, and was also the most-recognized drug product by survey respondents.
“We’re advising clients to invest in paid and organic search strategies to drive patients to their websites in the pre-doctor’s visit stage and at the point of care,” said Stanton.
So, what’s the take-home message from this study? TV advertising for prescription drugs still holds an important place in today’s healthcare market, but digital marketing is emerging as a potentially more effective way to reach specific patient populations. Whether drugmakers will heed this advice in the coming years and reconfigure their marketing budgets to invest more heavily in online promotion has yet to be seen.