MM&M's First 50 Years: A Look at What's Changed for Pharma, and What Hasn't

The history of advertising isn't an easy one to parse. It's not a subject about which copious volumes have been written or for which extensive records are readily available. In his 1987 book Hidden History, Daniel Boorstin includes advertising among a collection of essays devoted to examining what he called our “secret past.”

One reason for the secrecy may be that the discipline of advertising involves manipulating the mind — which is always state of the art, an idea that's constantly changing. And so, any attempt at chronicling it becomes catch as catch can.

That 's what we were up against with MM&M's 50th anniversary issue, in which we narrate several of the hidden histories behind medical advertising and marketing. Our writers relied as much on the relater as on whether he or she was “in the room when it happened.”

These interviews, whether they took place over the din of a busy New York City coffee shop or the hiss of a long-distance cell call, resulted in a host of essays on “firsts” in patient and professional marketing, like pharma's first Super Bowl ad and TV spot.

Read more about the industry's milestone moments in MM&M's 50th Anniversary issue. 

The notion that healthcare marketing crosses media — its practitioners concerned not so much with individual channels as with the broader engagement picture — was our thinking behind a Milestone Moments section arranged by audience — provider, media, marketing, patient, payer, and regulatory — rather than by individual marketing disciplines — DTC, medical education, and digital, for example.

Within this framework, we recount a host of megatrends, like the roots of the drug-pricing debate and turning points in the drive to define value; how insurers and PBMs came to wield more power than once imagined possible; the evolution of pharma's relationship with art and design; and areas where the FDA has thrown its weight around.

The latter brings me to an additional theme that emerged, and I wouldn't hesitate to add it to a list of defining characteristics of this business. Not only do the regulations provide the industry its swim lanes, but they are also, perhaps, its most notable hallmark.

When MM&M started as a business title back in October 1966, those guardrails had recently gained a good deal more clarity, arising as they did in the wake of the worldwide thalidomide tragedy of the early '60s and the subsequent passage of the Kefauver-Harris Amendments to the Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act. Indeed, this commemorative issue could have been subtitled “a half century of thriving within boundaries.”

Which leads me to a third thought: similarities between then and now. When you read our short essay on how oncologists pushed back against the price of Zaltrap, will it not hark back to the '60s, when Sen. Kefauver trained a spotlight on drug-price increases? Or perhaps to the charged atmosphere of the '80s, when the AIDS community balked at the almost-prohibitive cost of AZT?

Some innovations are still emerging, while others seem more elusive than ever. You'll find many moments whose impact resonates through time. And you'll gain an appreciation of the many changes to occur over the past five decades, changes that are most indicative of the progress marked by the industry.

Now that we've shown you our favorite milestone moments, we hope that you, too, will share yours.

Marc Iskowitz is editor-in-chief of MM&M.