Change the channel on DTC

This is the time of year when we take our annual, in-depth look at direct-to-consumer advertising (see DTC Report, page 42). Last April, aside from DTC celebrating its 10th birthday, there wasn't a great deal of news coming out of the space. Spend was up just a little and the threat of widespread migration of spending away from TV had not even begun to materialize. And once the industry had masterfully fought off the threat of advertising moratoria, which came courtesy of the FDA Amendment Act, it was very much a case of “as you were.”

Not so, this DTC season. Already this year, Merck/Schering-Plough and Pfizer have unceremoniously yanked their respective TV campaigns for Vytorin and Lipitor —two of the top 10 brands by DTC spending in 2007—from the screens after question marks over efficacy claims (Vytorin) and the qualifications of spokesperson Dr. Robert Jarvik (Lipitor) had escalated into the types of witch hunts that have become all too common in this industry.

And so the credibility cops laid siege on fortress Pfizer (You're not a real doctor!), and those loveable food-resembling relatives were cut off from their cholesterol-lowering brethren. All of which overshadowed a more fundamental flaw with DTC commercials: That they are still…well…not very engaging.

“Nearly all follow the same formula of mindless imagery,” writes Ross Thomson in “Rule of the Tool” (page 56). “A 60-second commercial, 30 of which contain a fair balance voiceover read out at super speed, which ends with ‘Ask your doctor about…' Exactly who else would I ask?” Ouch.

“Exactly how many do you recall?” continues Thomson.

The problem is, television is unsympathetic toward DTC's regulatory shackles. In other words, drug brands are competing against Budweiser, Toyota and Geico, and not against other drugs brands. You can't just advertise on TV, you've got to advertise for TV.

A cursory glance at the most recognized DTC ads of 2007 (page 28) shows Nasonex and Rozerem at the top of the list. 

Nasonex, of course, features the cute animated bee with an accent, while Rozerem is characterized by the Abe and Beaver dreamscape. Both are engaging and memorable to an extent, and arguable exceptions to the DTC “rule.” 

But does anyone recall the fair balance? Ever? Come to think of it, is it even possible to mix engaging creative with responsible, absorbable risk info? 

Consider this suggestion from one of my colleagues: If we really want viewers to remember the fair balance, then instead of conveying potential risks through narrative, or by employing a gesticulative spokesperson, how about illustrating them visually? And you wouldn't need a stunt double or have unquestionable qualifications to act out a headache or nausea scene. Silly? Of course. Memorable? Ditto.

Pathway to the Podium
If you would like to enter the MM&M Awards—but would prefer not to win—you might want to consider leaving it to the last minute, dumping your entry on the intern, entering the wrong category altogether or simply sending us 400 pounds of irrelevant support materials. If, however, you want to go for gold, please see page 41 for tips on how to triumph this year. The closing date is May 30, so good luck.
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