Based on results from the “2004 DTC Industry Checkup” — a survey of DTC (direct-to-consumer) drug marketers by Optas, Inc. and DTC Perspectives, Inc. — a majority of marketers expect DTC spending to increase in 2005 (41% predict increases greater than 5%). This is despite the challenges to DTC — consumer backlash, lack of data, and government regulations — identified by respondents.

This survey was conducted around the time that Vioxx was withdrawn from the market and at the height of election season (October 2004). At the time, Merck’s and FDA’s alleged collusion to keep facts from the public while Vioxx was still marketing via DTC (see “Who Should Pay for Merck’s Obstructionism?“) was not revealed and passions about then Sen. Edwards anti-DTC legislation were at fever pitch. I think if the survey were done today, there would be less optimism about spending.

Can You Teach Old Dogs New Tricks?
The surveyers contend that the results indicate a trend away from spending on mass media (e.g., TV) if you listen to senior marketer respondents with more than 6 years of DTC experience. Overall, 65% of responders believe that less money should be spent on television advertising with Spot TV and Radio ranking next in line for spend reduction.

“This year, opinions run strong, particularly in media channel assessment. Marketers who have tenure in DTC are bringing an increasing sophistication of ideas to the market place. The majority will dramatically decrease spend on mass media in 2005, turning instead to e-marketing and other patient relationship media. This contrasts to more junior members of DTC marketing teams who will continue spending on traditional DTC media such as broadcast.”

I have heard this before. One of my pet peeves has always been that the pharma DTC promotional budget devoted to the Internet is a miniscule 1-3% of the total DTC spend and that this percentage has NOT changed since 1998 despite all the hoopla about how cost-effective it is and how it is best suited for enhancing patient relationships (see “What Stands in the Way of the Mainstream Use of the Internet by Pharmaceutical Companies?“).

Of course, there is that “other patient relationship media” category. This includes physician office programs (the posters and pamphlets you see in your doc’s office), pharmacy support programs, and direct mail. I suspect that this is where most of the increased budget will be spent rather than through e-channels — although the e-mail channel was most often cited as primed for an increase in DTC spending in 2005.

Compliance, Compliance, Compliance – How Many Times Have We Heard That Tiresome Phrase?

Pharma marketers have long focused on acquiring new customers rather than keeping the ones they have. Compliance and persistency has always been a big problem in the pharma industry — somewhat due to the lack of attention by marketers and/or their lack of experience with relationship marketing, which is a core expertise needed to drive compliance (see, for example, “Effective Pharma Adherence Programs Start With The Patient“).

The 2004 DTC Checkup survey predicts that more attention will be paid to compliance in 2005, but maybe not if the agencies have their way. According to the survey, manufacturers differ from their suppliers in where DTC dollars should be spent. Over 77% of manufacturers feel greater investment should be made in direct-to-patient media, whereas only bout 50% of their suppliers agree.

The survey points out the obvious in that pharma marketers are well skilled in DTC marketing, but the new focus in marketing spend requires improved ability in multi-channel utilization, media optimization, and measurement. 65% of respondents indicated a need to improve their department’s’ skills in measurement, a vital skill for relationship marketing.

As Dominique Hurley, VP Marketing at Optas and co-author of the survey white paper, says, “You can’t do compliance without relationship marketing and you need specific expertise in this area to hit the ground running. It’s impossible to retrofit mass market DTC techniques to relationship marketing.” See the article “Out-of-the-Box Marketing: Will It Work for Pharma?” for more on this topic.