After a period of soul-searching, a renewed commitment to self-regulation and a plague of doctors in TV ads, DTC seems to have survived the fallout from the Vioxx withdrawal handily.
The examples of Lunesta and Cialis show that big-spending DTC hasn't lost its brand-building potency (or its ability to put us to sleep). But as fewer mass-market and “lifestyle” brands trickle out of pipelines and revolutionary changes sweep the media landscape, the brand-and-product-centric, TV-radio-and-print campaigns of old are getting harder to find, and the patient is unseating the “consumer” as the target of promotion.
It's a subtle transition, but a decisive one. Increasingly, marketers are target efforts across a diverse array of channels. Unbranded awareness ads and direct response TV, many say, are the future of DTC. In part, that shift is being driven by lingering regulatory heebie-jeebies and a review of what constitutes responsible advertising.
“The industry has had to take a few steps back to understand fair balance and responsibly making people aware of their options,” says Lorraine Babcock, chairman and CEO of Unit 7. “It's put some caution and strategy into how brands are communicated. There's been a complete shift: it's now about partnership with your doctor and working together to understand whether this drug is right for you.”
In the new paradigm, the locus of marketing efforts will focus on the physician-patient dialogue itself. Cracking that nut requires more than simple brand awareness – the insertion of a brand name into a synaptic vacuum. Instead, marketers must create a subtext for a conversation. That means prioritizing establishing awareness of a condition over awareness of available treatment options and doing so according to a rapidly changing media diet increasingly driven by online.