As Congress considers banning direct-to-consumer (DTC) advertising or at least giving the FDA the power to place a 2- or 3-year moratorium on DTC for new drugs (see “Bill Could Block Some Ads for New Drugs“), the industry is gravitating towards more unbranded disease awareness marketing (aka “cause marketing”) programs. Pfizer, for example, is on record saying that it will spend at least as much on such programs in one year as it would on a typical branded DTC campaign.
Pharma disease awareness campaigns can take many forms, one of which is giving “buckets of cash” (aka “educational grants”) to patient advocacy groups such as the American Heart Association and other, lesser-known, patient groups. Pharma is also known to create such groups de novo (see “Restless Pharma Marketing“). Disease awareness can also cross the line to “Disease Mongering,” in which new medical conditions are created or the incidence of the condition is exaggerated (see “Disease Awareness or Disease Mongering?“).
Is it any wonder, therefore, that new a survey by Envision Solutions (see press release here) suggests that many Americans are deeply skeptical of pharmaceutical companies’ motives for supporting non-profit patient advocacy groups?
According to the survey, 43% of US adults believe that pharmaceutical companies fund groups like the American Heart Association and the National Kidney Foundation in order to get more people to buy their products or medicines, whereas only 21% believe it is to demonstrate that the companies care about a health issue supported by the group.
Don’t Blame the Media!
Envision Solutions also analyzed negative media coverage of pharma support for patient groups and other non-profits and found that such coverage has increased. In particular, Envision suggested unease about pharmaceutical industry support of non-profits may be partly fueled by a recent sharp increase in news stories about “disease mongering” (see, for example, “Disease Mongering: When Is the Line Crossed?“).
Disease mongering, however, is not the only pharma cause marketing practice getting negative press these days. For example, the recent Boston Globe article “Drug firms’ funding of advocates often escapes government scrutiny” revealed that “In 221 [FDA] advisory committee meetings scrutinized [by Public Citizen, which doesn’t receive money form the pharmaceutical industry], 32 of 44 speakers representing patients said they had received funding from a company that would be affected by the FDA’s decision…While the FDA scours its advisers’ backgrounds for such information [see here], the agency does not require disclosures when patients testify.”
You can’t blame the media for reporting practices that are clearly suspect. It’s time to put the horse before the cart and for the industry to accept some responsibility for the negative press it receives!
Don’t Let It Happen Here
In Europe and Australia, where DTC is prohibited, pharma-non-profit cause alliances are practically the only way pharmaceutical companies can reach out to patients. However, abuses “over there” have led to restrictions. Envision Solutions warns that “Americans’ deep suspicion of pharmaceutical companies and increasing negative media coverage of their support of non-profits is a recipe for disaster.” One such “disaster” would be what happened in the UK and elsewhere: “more aggressive government regulation of drug firm-non-profit partnerships.”
There have already been moves in Congress to investigate pharmaceutical support of non-profit groups through educational grants, which are “growing rapidly” according to a New York Times article:
“A Congressional investigation of the money that drug companies give as supposed educational grants has found that the payments are growing rapidly and are sometimes steered by marketing executives to doctors and groups who push unapproved uses of drugs.
“Twenty-three drug makers spent a total of $1.47 billion in 2004 on educational grants, or an average of $64 million per company, according to the Senate Finance Committee. That number was a 20 percent increase from the total in 2003, which was $1.23 billion.’ [NYT, “Drug Makers Scrutinized Over Grants”, January 11, 2006].
To avoid more regulation in the US, Envision Solutions suggests that “drug firms and non-profits must take steps to increase their transparency and communicate more proactively about their alliances.”
Envision Solutions has some recommendations to achieve this goal. Good luck with that!
Listen to this podcast:
Pharma Cause Marketing
A discussion with Fard Johnmar of Envision Solutions focused on his company’s recent survey about American opinion of pharma-non-profit cause alliances and the implication for the future of pharma cause marketing….More info here…
- Airs live, Wednesday, May 2, 2007, 1 PM Eastern US time
Guest: Fard Johnmar, Envision Solutions, LLC