According to an article in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal (“In Switch, J&J Gives Straight Talk“):

“Johnson & Johnson is unveiling a new approach to TV and print campaigns that deals head-on with safety, putting drug risks on more-equal footing with drug benefits.”

The “new” approach shows a split screen with a doctor on one side and a woman patient on the other. While the patient seems enthusiastic (“I’m in!”), the physician counters with a “Let’s talk” response and goes on to talk about risks. The product is the Ortho Evra birth-control patch and the ad is supposed to air for the first time later this month.

“The future of DTC advertising depends on its ability to inform, and the balance between persuasion and information is likely to shift towards information,” said Mr. Pounder [chief executive and president of Alchemy, a unit of Interpublic Group of Cos., which produced the Evra campaign]. He wouldn’t divulge details of focus-group tests for the new J&J ads, but said they were well-received and not off-putting, despite the frank talk about dangers.

I’ve always been a proponent of more information and education in DTC ads (see, for example,”Is DTC Educational or Motivational?“) and I applaud this kind of approach to DTC.

It’s interesting that the lead is coming from J&J, a pharmaceutical company with the most experience in consumer advertising — it has been marketing health products like band aids and shampoo to consumers for decades. J&J has been admired by professionals in the industry for its consumer experience and operations, but is often disparaged within the industry as the least innovative with regard to R&D and the development of new products.

Instead of emulating the marketing techniques of packaged goods manufacturers with less of a pharmaceutical pedigree (e.g., Proctor and Gamble), traditional pharma companies should take the lead from J&J.

Drugs should NOT be marketed like packaged goods (see “Marketing Drugs Like Packaged Goods at the Super Bowl“). Drugs are serious products and require a doctor to close the sale. It makes perfect sense therefore to include doctors within the DTC ads to communicate risks.

Johnson & Johnson Chief Executive William Weldon said in an address to PhRMA: “I believe we should start by recognizing that the framework we call ‘DTC advertising’ may inadvertently minimize the importance and power of medicines and their risks. Our communication with patients should really be thought of as Direct to Consumer Education.”” — “New PhRMA Leaders Discuss Future of the Industry, Need for More Public Education.” He also said:

“If our industry is to retain the important right to talk directly to consumers [my emphasis], each of our companies in its own way must work to make DTC [direct to consumer] what it very definitely can be — a way to educate and counsel consumers in improving their health.”


What do you think? Take the Pharma Marketing News “DTC Straight Talk Survey.”

* Will the rest of the pharma industry follow J&J’s lead?
* Should they?
* Should all DTC ads be done this way?
* What impact will adding more risk information to DTC ads have on your business?

Click here to take this survey. You will be able to see a summary of the de-identified results immediately after completing the survey.

It’s not likely that the industry will follow J&J and do the right thing on its own. The threat of stricter government regulation of DTC has brought the industry to a fork in the DTC road. One thing is certain: when they come to that fork in the road, they will take it. Either they do the right thing or they lose that “right” of which Mr. Weldon speaks. Only pressure from the government can force them to take the right fork.

The industry trade group, Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, however, is rabidly opposed to any government regulation and tries to paint a horrible picture of government interfering in our healthcare:

“In that very profound human moment when we sit with our doctor and our principal caregiver to make a life or death decision on a medicine or surgical procedure, the last person anyone should want in that room is some federal bureaucrat telling us what we can or cannot choose. That is totally unacceptable for America and for the patients we serve.” (Statement of Billy Tauzin, President and Chief Executive Officer, Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, PhRMA Annual Meeting, Washington, DC.)

It’s no secret, however, that the pharma industry supports the current Republican regime, which just passed a federal law that very much interferes with a single person’s right to choose and put the government in the room in the most scary way imaginable.