Every Friday, I look forward to receiving “DTC In Perspective,” Bob Ehrlich’s weekly opinion piece. You can access a recent iteration of Bob’s OpEd online here.

Last Friday, Bob gave his “guidelines” for reviewing DTC (direct-to-consumer) marketing tactics and ads in an article called “DTC Critics.” He suggested that because there will be many critics out there, including some who call for the firing of specific marketers, that “It takes a thicker skin to be a good marketer.”

Of course, this drew my attention for two reasons: (1) I was one of those (unnamed by Bob) critics that suggested somebody be fired, and (2) the “thick-skin” quote suggested the subject of a post that I could write in response to Bob’s piece.

Unfortunately, Bob’s piece is not online yet, so I will quote it in its entirety here (dark-red quoted text) and insert my comments.

Bob said: “What used to be reserved for movies and books is now in vogue for DTC marketing tactics. I am speaking of reviewers. Whether you asked for it or not, there are numerous DTC ad critics out there who are anxious to give their opinion on the quality of your work. I am one of those reviewers. There are many others from other trade magazines and blogs who will gladly give their opinion on your latest commercial.”

I have seen very few articles in trade magazines that had anything critical to say of specific DTC ads. I have written about this before (see “Trade Publications Must Be More than Drug Industry Cheerleaders!“), so I won’t get into that again here.

There have been plenty of criticisms of DTC ads in blogs — including this blog — and on YouTube. Some of these criticisms have been scathing and, I imagine, require thick skins of the marketers whose ads are being criticized.

But let’s not shed any crocodile tears over the plight of DTC marketers. I’m sure they get PAID WELL for what they do, whether or not their ads are successful! They can afford a truckload of skin softening creams to ease their pain! Or, they can just hug the awards they’ve received from trade publications.

Guideline #1: Do Not Evaluate DTC ROI
That’s Bob’s first principle:

Bob: “I am sure if we say good things about your work then numerous copies are made and passed up the line citing our analytical brilliance. On the other hand if we do not like what you produce, then we are likely misinformed about your objectives and strategies. I have some guidelines I use when I review your ads.

“First, I do not pretend to know whether it has a positive ROI. I do not do research on your ad and have no special data bank to use when evaluating it. So if I do not like it, I may be dead wrong from an ROI perspective.

“Second, I know most, if not all of you, quantitatively test your ads. Therefore you have an ad that is at least average for DTC or you would not have run it. So it is likely that your ad, no matter what critics say, is not going to be a disaster.

“Third, a much as we would like to make advertising a science, it is not. Critics may hate or love your ad for the wrong reasons. Some may want to see edgy copy; others may like a clear presentation of facts. The real measure is did it sell more product and help grow your brand value. Only you know that.”

I, among many other journalists and bloggers, have famously criticized certain DTC ad campaigns for staying the course, despite obviously negative returns on investment (“In the first quarter of this year [2007],” reports the Chicago Tribune, “Takeda spent more than $40 million on Rozerem ads, TNS Media Intelligence figures show, and the company reported $26 million in sales during the same period.” See “Rozerem Ad Spending Exceeds Sales!“).

This must be a new principle for Bob because I know he likes to quote positive ROI data when defending DTC advertising in general. He must have meant to say, “I don’t pretend to know if it [DTC ad campaign] has a NEGATIVE ROI.”

In a June 20, 2003, OpEd piece entitled “Does DTC Deliver Strong ROI?”, Bob said: “Perhaps the average ROI is $2.00 for every $1 invested. This is pretty good considering government bonds pay only $1.03 for every $1 invested.”

In a more recent, August 11, 2006 piece entitled “Waste in DTC Advertising”, Bob said: “Why is there a problem in setting objectives and measurement? It is largely because none of us really want to firmly set measurable objectives. We all like to believe that we are successful, and therefore, we like wiggle room in evaluating results. No agency will ever agree that they aired a bad commercial, yet we all can cite bad ads. No client wants to say that their DTC program failed, yet we know many have negative ROI. Human nature, therefore, is the biggest reason we have waste.”

In other words, positive DTC ROI is good and pharmaceutical companies get better returns investing in DTC advertising than if they invested in Uncle Sam! Bob obviously knows that “many [DTC programs] have negative ROI.” I am perplexed, therefore, why he will no longer consider ROI when commenting on DTC.

As I see it, DTC ads with negative ROI are another example of the waste in DTC advertising that Bob talked about.

Measuring DTC ROI and making sure it is POSITIVE is important not only from a business perspective, but also from a political perspective. Critics in Congress and elsewhere claim that DTC spending adds to the cost of drugs. That is one of the main arguments they have for limiting or banning DTC advertising. If the ads have negative ROI to boot, then that’s money being wasted that has to be made up by keeping prices high or even increasing prices!

BTW, if you want to learn more about measuring DTC ROI, I invite you to listen to Dr. Andree Bates, a marketing ROI expert, who will be a guest on this Wednesday’s
Pharma Marketing Talk Podcast
(listen live or the the audio archive here):

You Want Marketing ROI? You’re Not Ready to Measure ROI!
If You Can’t Define It, You Can’t Measure It!
Airs LIVE, Wednesday, September 12, at 2 PM Eastern US time.
See more information here.


Some critics — myself included — want to see the industry do better (see “The Drug Industry Needs Constructive Criticism, Not Pugilistic Put Downs“). Attention to honest criticism is one way the industry can do better. If you are a critic of DTC advertising and you DO NOT take ROI into consideration, then you are not doing the industry any favors, IMHO.

Bob: “Some critics love to call you names, or say how incompetent you are. Some want you fired if they think your work is poor. I never do that because I know what it is like to try to create ads in the pharmaceutical environment. As I said, I trust that you always have more information than me and there must be a reason for your ad, even if I dislike it. That does not mean the critics are wrong, as more information is not always a guide to making great ads.”

I admit it. I have called some people names and even suggested that they be fired. For example, I called Andy Hull, senior vice president of marketing at Takeda and the person responsible for the negative ROI of Rozerem DTC ads, a “maroon.” Unless you are a fan of Looney Tunes, you might not even recognize that as an insult!

Listen. These people — especially senior VPs — get paid BIG bucks! I don’t know how much but in the high 6 figures. (Peter Rost, infamous drug industry whistleblower and former Pfizer marketing VP had a salary of about $600,000 before he was fired!).

That money should provide Andy with as thick of a skin as he needs to protect himself against the puny barbs I throw at him.

Should he be fired? If he’s not doing the job that he gets paid big bucks for, then, yes, he should be fired. Of course, only Takeda can make that assessment and decision.

Maybe Andy Hull should fire his current Rozerem ad agency — as I also recommended — and hire a new one. That just might save his job!

Bob: “In this new web environment where publishing criticisms is easy, it takes a thicker skin to be a good marketer. It also takes more courage to stretch the creative envelope because you know critics are ready to pounce. Some of those criticisms may get to your boss and cause you some grief trying to defend them. Unfortunately today’s marketers just have to accept that main media, trade magazines and bloggers need to fill a lot of newly created web space. So if in the future I write about your ad, at least you can understand that it is never personal and I recognize the hard work that got you there. I do ask that you consider the possibility that some of the criticisms are valid and an open mind may help you improve your ROI.”

Yes, some of the criticisms are “valid” and it’s NOT just about “filling a lot of newly created web space” although I am not sure what Bob means by that. It’s not as if I create Web space and then have to find something, anything to fill it.

My advice to DTC marketers: Don’t let your head get too big about how “creative” you are. It just might lead to skull thickening, which is known to squeeze your brains and not allow any NEW ideas in! I can understand developing a thick skin, but I have no patience with thick skulls.