You are probably aware of certain connections between Hollywood and Raritan (the nexus of Pharma’s heartland); i.e., between the movie industry and the drug industry.

For example: Brand name drugs are often mentioned in movies such as Viagra in “Somethings Gotta Give.” Actor celebrities like Lorraine Bracco (Tony Soprano’s psychiatrist in the HBO series “The Sopranos”) are often used in drug ads as spokepersons — a practice I think needs to be curtailed (see “Pfizer DTC Pledge: ED is Litmus Test“). And some actors abuse or put down prescription drugs — think Tom Cruise.

But maybe the most important connection — analogy actually — between these two industries is the blockbuster marketing and sales model that both the Hollywood movies industry and drug industry rigidly adhere to.

I was reminded of this analogy while reading the Financial Page in the August 8&15, 2005 issue of The New Yorker magazine. The author summarized Hollywood’s basic strategy: “invest a lot of money in films that have the potential to be blockbusters, target teen-agers as a core audience, and spend enormous amounts of energy and money trying to get people to the theater on the first weekend.”

Sound familiar? Except (?) for targeting teen-agers, this is the same strategy followed by the drug industry. Maybe the drug industry does not yet target teen-agers, but it does target a more affluent audience with discretionary income or likely to have good prescription drug coverage.

It’s fair to say the drug companies, like Hollywood, invest a lot of money in products that have the potential to be blockbusters. Much less effort and money, on the other hand, are spent on products with less money-making potential such as vaccines (despite the recent ad from Merck, which touted its role in developing vaccines against childhood diseases).

The drug industry’s equivalent to “getting people to the theatre” is getting people to the doctor. The industry clearly positions this as the main goal of DTC advertising and says it is a major benefit to consumers who otherwise might not seek medical attention. They fail to mention that if the consumer does not go to the doctor, the drug company does not make money. Same with movies, although I have a much better experience going to the movie theater than to my doctor’s office.

The author of The New Yorker article also points out that Hollywood should pay more attention to DVD sales after the movie is released, because this is where the profit really is for the movie industry.

Generics are to the drug industry what DVDs are to the movie industry. After the movie runs its course in the theaters, it enters the DVD market. I am not sure whether DVDs are cheaper than going to the movies, so the analogy with generic drugs may not hold up.

Anyway, the main point is about missing sales after the patented lifetime of the drug. The pharma industry should pay more attention to its DVD sales! Big pharma companies — the ones who invented the drug in the first place — should continue to sell the drug as a generic or over-the-counter (OTC) product after the patent runs out. I know this is done in some cases — at least with OTCs.

You might also say that DVDs are Hollywood’s answer to compliance — making sure the audience keeps viewing the product. Compliance and adherence, as opposed to getting the first prescription, is a major problem for the drug industry, which loses billions of dollars in sales because patients do not remain on treatment as long as they should.

Just as it will be hard for Hollywood to “break itself of the habit of fetishizing opening weekends,” it will be equally hard for pharmaceutical companies to break the blockbuster branding and sales model.

For more on alternatives to the blockbuster model, see these articles from Pharma Marketing News and previous posts to this blog: “The New Branding Model: From Blockbusters to Targeted Therapies” and “Evidence-based Marketing.”