A Vote for Packaging
Just like during past presidential election years, the pharmaceutical manufacturing industry is under attack again. During his recent riverboat tour through Wisconsin, Vice President and Democratic presidential candidate Al Gore referred to his possible new administration as a classic battle between the "people and the powerful. . . . Big tobacco, big oil, the big polluters, the pharmaceutical companies, the HMOs. Sometimes you have to be willing to stand up and say no--so families can have a better life."
Lumping drug companies with popularly demonized corporate entities doesn't bode well for the drug industry's future. Pharmaceutical companies may feel forced to further control their costs, such as those associated with packaging and labeling, which can harm consumers in the long run. In addition, such pronouncements are frightening investors, says BridgeNews commentator Debra Beachy, which could hinder drug discovery and development efforts.
Efforts to control drug prices have been in the works all year, especially at the state level. For instance, Maine passed the "Act to Establish Fairer Pricing for Prescription Drugs," which negotiates discounts for its 325,000 residents with no prescription-drug coverage. Under the act, drug manufacturers that do not comply will be penalized. Other states may soon follow Maine's lead.
However, the presidential candidates' discussion of escalating drug costs and the need to make prescriptions affordable for senior citizens and the underprivileged have cast larger, more nationally visible shadows on the drug industry. To their credit, both Gore and Texas Governor and Republican presidential candidate George W. Bush have suggested expanding Medicare coverage to include prescription drug coverage rather than calling for fixed drug prices. But their insinuations that prescriptions are overpriced still cast a negative light on the drug industry.
Despite such criticism, drug manufacturers should continue all the efforts for which they are often criticized--their direct-to-consumer marketing efforts, their expensive drug discovery endeavors, their costly and lengthy clinical studies, and especially their investments in sophisticated packaging. Packaging is the first element of the prescription drug that consumers interact with--consumers read the labels and inserts, dispense their daily medications, and adhere to their often-complicated regimens through the benefit of sophisticated packaging like blisters, expanded-content labels, and multiple-panel cartons. Without such packaging aids, drug consumers may not fully understand their prescriptions, may forget to secure their drugs from children, or may even forget to take their daily doses. Such mistakes can lead to serious consequences. "Packaging helps identify the drug," says John Gambardella, vice president of sales and marketing for Rex Corp., a carton manufacturer. "Yes, it warehouses and protects the drug, but it is also a way to get information to the patient."
In addition, packaging helps sell pharmaceuticals. "An approach of saving pennies on a carton, in lieu of making dollars, is not a successful strategy for even the best products and companies," adds Gambardella. "Folding cartons are playing an increasingly important role in the marketing of pharmaceutical products. Instead of viewing them as another cost that has no return, companies should see them as a vital piece of the product that can reap higher sales, because the cartons are the last piece of advertising that a consumer sees when purchasing their product."
There may be other avenues that drug manufacturers could look to for savings, such as the distribution channel. "If more prescription and over-the-counter drugs were sold via mail order, say, over the Internet, you would eliminate the drugstore mark-up," he explains. Drugs sold through this medium would still need sophisticated packaging, however, "so the product still has brand reinforcement when it does arrive at the consumer."
When the public and the government start to cry out that drugs are overpriced, drug companies and investors scare easily from sophisticated packages like glossy pharmaceutical cartons. But drug manufacturers have a responsibility to drug consumers—and to drug company investors—to use packaging to attract and educate consumers about the benefits of their product. Yes, a successful package can lead to increased profits for the pharmaceutical giants. But it can also grab a shopper's or pharmacist's eye, it can communicate a drug's history and proper use, and it can even remind patients with colors, graphics, and other elements to adhere to regimens—acts that help keep consumers, even the underprivileged, healthy.