Beatrice Mallory, SensisHealth (1)

“Los demócratas just voted to lower the cost of prescription drugs!”

“Los republicanos just voted against lowering the cost of prescription drugs!”

These are the copy headlines for a new trilingual campaign launched on the heels of the Dec. 12 vote passing H.R. 3. The bill would allow the federal government to negotiate prescription drug prices, a top Democratic campaign promise.

The digital ad campaign, backed by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), will feature ads in Spanish, English and Spanglish. It’s a sharp strategy given that second-generation Latinos skew more Democratic than their immigrant parents and hold a growing majority in key swing states. Along those lines, 78% of likely Hispanic voters report they take prescription drugs on a regular basis.

The campaign is running in 11 Democratic-held districts, with seven of the spots in Spanish and the rest in Spanglish. It’s also running in eight GOP-held districts, four in each language format.

An old Puerto Rican saying applies here: “Camarón que se duerme se lo lleva la corriente.” The literal translation? A sleeping shrimp gets dragged away by the current.

In other words, by continuing to snooze, the pharma industry is losing the opportunity to shape the opinions and perceptions of tens of millions of patients.

The size of the opportunity is growing. Back in December, the U.S. Census reported that Latinos now comprise 18.3% of the population, up from 17.9% in 2018. Yet the pharma industry spend in Hispanic advertising is stuck at less than 3% of the total industry ad spend.

Merely translating PPIs and replacing white faces in ads with brown ones amounts to ignoring the market – and size-wise, ignoring the Hispanic market is equivalent to ignoring the entire states of New York and California.

So now that Hispanic consumers are being targeted with an aggressive campaign that isn’t in pharma’s best interest, what can pharma do?

We should shape and tell the story.

The contrasting Republican proposal balances support for expensive medical research with lowering prescription drug prices. According to Rep. Dan Newhouse (R-Washington), that “may be more difficult to get across, but I think we can do that.”

It would seem that this more complex story is best told by the industry.

The storyline of the DCCC ads is simple to grasp. Its central message – that the bill will reduce drug prices by $370 billion – is easily comprehended by a consumer base more heavily burdened by drug co-pays, limited education and limited English proficiency. 

However, it’s a far more daunting task to convey the more complicated messaging that one, drugs are very expensive to develop over a long period of time; two, pricing has to take into account the costs of clinical development of many drugs that may or not make it to FDA consideration; and three, it remains extremely challenging to get the drugs to the people who need them. Such advanced messaging is not the purview of most politicians. We are the storytellers and we should control the narrative.

The stakes are very high, as 78% of Americans say drug companies are responsible for “high prescription prices.” Among Hispanic adults, 58% say they consider the cost of prescriptions to be “unreasonable.”

The onus is on pharmaceutical marketers to confront this challenge. Bobbing along in the water and waiting to see what happens does us no good.

Beatriz Mallory is SVP, managing director at SensisHealth