Direct-to-consumer, or DTC, pharmaceutical promotion has unquestionably created value. It has created a healthy sense of empowerment among patients, reduced undiagnosed disease, and, for drug companies, created unsurpassed brand awareness. As part of its annual marketing and education efforts, the pharmaceutical industry typically spends about $2 billion to market directly to consumers and, according to the FDA, $2 billion on education events for physicians and other clinicians.

Given the amount of money spent on DTC advertising, branding efforts should be showing strong results for the manufacturers, but that is simply not the case. Consider that, compared with other countries, branding efforts in the United States are having a negligible effect. In fact, a 2003 survey from Consumer Health Sciences, Princeton, N.J., indicates that requests for brand-name drugs are made at the same rate in the United States as they are in Europe, which prohibits DTC advertising.

While many surveys convey the success of DTC advertising in branding and competitive market positioning, recent research points out that other drivers affect sales. And the biggest drivers in prescription sales? According to DoubleClick, a New York — based provider of tools for advertising and direct marketing, 78 percent of prescription sales can be attributed to baseline and seasonal drivers, not DTC promotions.

In addition, March 2003 research from A.C. Nielsen points out that 89 percent of current prescriptions and 83 percent of new prescriptions are doctor-driven. Yet only half of marketing budgets are spent on reaching these individuals.

Given leading sales drivers and market indicators, branding to consumers at the expense of greater physician education and promotion doesn't make sense.

Wise brand managers, in and out of the pharmaceutical arena, use other forms of communication to reach their target audience in a cost-effective manner. Pharmaceutical companies looking to reach physicians and clinicians, who are the ultimate drug decision-makers, should concentrate on education and journal promotions.

Advisory board and consultant meetings, traditional public relations, media relations, trade journal advertising, and engaging in continuing medical education remain proven and productive tactics for raising awareness of treatments among clinicians.

A shift in the spending paradigm could create valuable nonpromotional education and ensure physicians and clinicians are knowledgeable about treatment developments and risks associated with current treatment options. The good news for marketers is that additional spending is not needed, only a different philosophy.

Sally Shankland is a senior vice president of CMP Healthcare Media, a division of CMP Media LLC, in San Francisco. Contact her by e-mail at


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