Can Packaging Save DTC Promotion?
Currently under fire for spending billions on direct-to-consumer (DTC) drug promotion, drug manufacturers may soon need to find another way to get their messages across to consumers. During a February House Commerce/Health Subcommittee meeting on Medicare, several Republican representatives attributed the rising costs of drugs to the money spent on television advertisements. According to Competitive Media Reporting (New York City), drug makers spent $1.590 billion on DTC ads in 1999.
Others blame DTC promotion for unnecessary doctor visits. "It's not the drug costs per se, it's the cost of the patient going to the physician and driving the patient to the physician for a condition or a drug that is not appropriate," said Donald T. Lewers during an April meeting of the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission, a nonpartisan congressional advisory body. "There's an excess cost to that."
Instead, using packaging to promote pharmaceuticals helps manufacturers steer clear of such debates and enables them to reach a more qualified audience. For example, a package by Eli Lilly and Co. for its postmenopausal osteoporosis treatment Evista, just recognized as the 1999 Compliance Package of the Year by the Healthcare Compliance Packaging Council, contains a business reply card (BRC) that patients can use to obtain more information about the drug. (See page 10 for the news story.) In return, completed BRCs give Lilly a way to learn more about Evista users.
"Companies are using packaging more and more to communicate directly with consumers," says Rick Sury, director of sales at Sharp, the contract packager that assembled the package for Lilly. "This year we've seen more carded blisters than ever before."
Ernest Chaplin, vice president of sales, marketing, and product licensing for Pharmagraphics, sees the same trend. "Drug companies are making packages that provide more information to the patient."
Pharmagraphics's packaging solution is the DTCirc, a packaging onsert that contains four components: physician literature, patient information, a BRC, and a coupon marketed by Pharmagraphics. "It's a unique vehicle that allows drug companies to gather information on what types of consumers are taking their medication," explains Chaplin. "The BRC allows users to consent to receive additional information directly from the pharmaceutical manufacturer. It also allows drug makers to develop a patient profile in order to tailor their marketing programs."
Such DTC packaging solutions allow drug manufacturers to reach the most appropriate audience. While DTC TV ads reach a broad group of viewers, only a portion of which could be potential consumers, DTC BRCs help drug companies compile a list of relevant consumers and develop mailings targeted to a specific demographic. And consumers are probably more willing to commit themselves to a particular drug regimen if they feel that the marketing information addresses their specific needs rather than those of an entire prime-time audience.
Clearly, DTC television and print advertisements have made some drugs blockbusters, enabling manufacturers to pay off the debt accumulated during research and development. Such promotion has yielded some pretty impressive results: according to the Spring 2000 issue of Scott-Levin's Pharmaceutical Quarterly, DTC advertising has contributed to double-digit growth in prescriptions issued for cholesterol-lowering medications and antihistamines in 1998 and 1999. Drug manufacturers may even argue that the consumer payoffs to such current ad expenditures are profits that enable drug manufacturers to keep the costs of future drugs affordable.
Drug makers probably won't be able to abandon all DTC TV and print advertisements. Using packaging as a vehicle for DTC promotion may be a more economical and effective way to reach the right consumers, but drug makers may need to spend money on TV and print promotions first just to put the package in the right hands.
Daphne Allen, Editor