The most famous phrase never uttered in the Hippocratic oath taken by physicians is “First, do no harm.” (See “Not in the Hippocratic Oath“).

Marketing should have its own “Hippocratic Oath” and its first principle or maxim should definitely be “Do no harm.”

As far as pharmaceutical marketing is concerned, this principle needs to cover at least two different types of harm:

1. Financial Harm, and
2. Reputation Harm

Everyone assumes that marketing benefits a company’s bottom line. But a recent study summarized in AdvertisingAge failed to demonstrate this. Instead, the study could only conclude that marketing does not harm the bottom line:

A study to be published in the Journal of Marketing that covered 167 companies including Procter & Gamble, Microsoft and Apple over a five-year period concludes that CMOs [Chief Marketing Officers] on top management teams don’t have any effect on a company’s financial performance.

At least CMOs don’t do harm: “It is important to note that CMOs do not have a negative impact on performance,” the study found. (See “CMOs Rapped for Having Zero Impact on Sales“).

I doubt the study included many pharmaceutical companies. I am virtually certain that it did not include Takeda, the company whose marketing is definitely doing harm to the bottom line (see “Rozerem Ad Spending Exceeds Sales!“).

The study’s authors and other marketing performance experts suggest we focus on other benefits of CMOs and, by extension, marketing in general, including:

  • embracing and understanding how to use new media;
  • aligning with the rest of the organization’s imperatives;
  • and making sure the consumer is at the heart of marketing.

With regard to these non-financial measures, I would say that pharmaceutical marketers are doing harm in at least two of these areas: NOT embracing new media and NOT putting the consumer first. Merck could be moving in the right direction here (see “Rejiggering the Marketing Mix a la Merck“), but whether or not other pharmaceutical companies will follow remains in doubt.

Reputation: One More Measure of Marketing
For the pharmaceutical industry, the most important non-financial measure of marketing’s impact is, IMHO, its impact on the company’s and the industry’s reputation.

It’s easy to see the impact of pharmaceutical marketing on pharma’s reputation by reading the minutes of Senate and House hearings in the US Congress. Even industry supporters like former Senator Frist referred to drug ads when criticising the industry (see “Deconstructing Frist on DTC“).

Most times, however, it is difficult to link marketing practices with industry reputation. That’s because a lot of pharma’s promotional activities are not coming directly from marketing budgets. Thus, PR and government relations, are not considered marketing. However, I beg to differ.

These days, it’s difficult to see any difference between pharma PR and pharma marketing (see, for example, “Marketing Disguised as PR“, “Chantix: PR First, Launch & Ads to Follow“, and “PR Marketing: Mystery Wrapped in a Riddle“). Centocor’s PR people created a feature-length movie that many people considered marketing and was later integrated into a marketing campaign (see “The Innerstate DVD. Is TV Next?“).

Was Merck’s campaign to get state legislatures to pass mandatory HPV vaccination laws marketing or government relations?

If we could follow the PR and government relations money allocated to specific products like Chantrix and Gardasil, I am sure it all comes from the marketing budgets of these products. These funds, like claims made about CME funding, may be laundered and untraceable, but I think there’s at least a trail of crumbs.

Whatever! Take Responsibility!
By whatever standard we measure marketing, pharmaceutical marketers must be held accountable when they do do financial harm and reputation harm.

The first marketing team I would hold accountable for doing financial harm — and maybe reputation harm as well — is the Rozerem ad team (see “Takeda – Fire These Guys!“).

I would also censure the Merck person, team, or agency whose idea it was to pay outside interest groups to influence politicians to vote for mandatory HPV vaccination programs. Although this promotional program and the press it received probably aided sales of Gardasil, it further eroded the industry’s reputation.