I came across this rather innocuous looking story in MM&M today about the FDA considering a requirement that would add a toll-free number to all DTC TV ads to allow consumers to report adverse events. The full text of the news alert is here:
“The FDA is weighing requiring DTC TV ads to carry a toll-free number for adverse events reports and is surveying 1,600 consumers to find out what they think, the Associated Press reported. The requirement would dovetail with one already in place for print ads, but some at the agency are concerned that a toll-free number would distract viewers from risk information. The survey will test ads for a fictitious blood pressure drug, AP reported, with an eye to how the placement, wording and timing of the statement impacts comprehension and recall.”
The FDA doesn’t have the final say on whether or not DTC advertising is allowed (Congress does essentially), but they can sure make it clear that they don’t care much for it. You might have noticed when watching any drug ad the litany of side effects and risks that are included. It goes a little like this: “With Curital you may experience headache, dry mouth, toe fungus, liver cancer, vertigo, nausea, upset stomach, night sweats, death, hearing loss, and tooth decay.” That’s the FDA. They don’t want to police these ads so they make it much harder to them to be meaningful or have much of an impact. This toll-free number would go one step further.
I, for one, could care whether or not DTC TV ads disappear. I’ve never believed them to be effective, but I do believe they are easy. As a brand manager, you simply hand over a bunch of money to your media agency and tell them to show your drug to as many people as possible. Easy. You can then tell your managers that you spent a whole bunch of money and made a whole bunch of “impressions.”
Isn’t there a better place for all of this money? Spending the money to do targeted advertising like search marketing or developing digital applications specific to your target audience is hard. It takes a lot less money, but it’s hard. There are only a few agencies (and fewer pharma companies) out there that really understand it and know how to make something like this come to life. Instead, they stick with what’s “worked.” By “worked” I mean shows up as a planned tactic each year. Instead of spending money on DTC TV, why not instead try to find the people that will really benefit from your product and who are likely to derive a big benefit from it? Those are your customers for life.
A flash in the pan TV ad isn’t going to capture reliable patients. For many who respond to your ad, they want a quick fix and after your quick fix, it’ll be the next quick fix. But, what to do instead eludes a lot of companies. Ask around, read this blog, question your advisers (and certainly your agencies), find out what’s possible. Remember my personal adage about TV commercials: There wouldn’t be a single TV commercial if those who worked on the advertised brand were forbidden to talk about it at a party.
Think about that for a second.