DTC Report 2018: Will more supersized campaigns follow Opdivo's and Keytruda's massive strikes?
Large direct-to-consumer ad campaigns have been a mainstay of pharma marketing for some time. But the ongoing shock-and-awe efforts on behalf of Bristol-Myers Squibb's Opdivo and Merck's Keytruda, both aimed at a relatively small patient pool, have rewritten the rules. And observers expect their larger impact — for good or for ill — to be even bigger than their ad budgets.
Not just TV
DTC media trends to watch
Not that anyone expected otherwise, but direct-to-consumer pharma and healthcare marketing continued its evolution into a massive multichannel and multi-environment play during the past year. To make sense of the rapid change, we asked media ace Lisa Healy, a partner at Medical Media Services, to share the trends she has seen in recent months — and the ones she expects to see in the months and years ahead.
The game has changed
“With pharma and health DTC, you've always had channel planners and media strategists who oversee them — the strategists take all the different channels and put a plan together. I'm wondering if they're making changes in how they work. To do your job, you need more meetings with people from each channel and you need to think way in advance how [the channels] can be integrated. Nothing happens in a vacuum.
With Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon, the TV space already looks so different than it did even two years ago. The [pharma] companies that have relied on DTC are going to have to look at other opportunities if they want their dollars to go further.”
“The best of what I saw in DTC this year wasn't a TV commercial or a campaign per se, but programs that paid a lot of attention to how they're going to live in different environments. Whatever the message and the content is, you have to plan out how it's going to live outside TV.”
“We're seeing more pharma and healthcare in social. One campaign that stands out is the American Cancer Society's social campaign around Facebook, which aligns nicely with their TV commercials. That matters so much more than the amount they're spending, because it amplifies the campaign and increases reach and exposure.
And the content itself is really good, with individuals who don't look at cancer as a death sentence, but fly in the face of the cancer. Facebook Watch is really affordable. That could be a place for pharma to experiment.”
“This is one of the channels everybody is trying to figure out. As you use Alexa — or the Google or Apple devices — how can you incorporate a message from pharma that fits in that environment, saves time, and is fluid?
Right now, voice is really undervalued. It's not expensive to do. But it's going to take some time before pharma gets comfortable with it, especially with regulatory [concerns]. You're going to have to partner with an existing app or information resource.”
A systemic surge
“There's been some really good DTC work for the promotion of hospital systems. Look at what NYU Langone Medical Center has done, with the ads about everyday athletes and how they can get hurt participating in winter sports. Why haven't health systems done more of this? These big systems need patients and the space has become so competitive.
But it's not just about getting patients. With all the partnerships, especially between insurance companies and pharmacies, I'm wondering if places are putting themselves out there more because they know prospective partners may be watching.”
Same players, new playbook
“There's been a bunch of this in different places. Last year's United Healthcare ads were about ‘taming the inner Hulk,' but they added something interesting. At the end of the ads, they had a message along the lines of, ‘When you're at an appointment, be sure to ask for a particular test [colonoscopy] and it's free.'
United Healthcare is almost positioning themselves as a provider. They want people to live healthy lives earlier on so that they are healthier down the road. That's in everybody's best interest.”