I just got back from a two-day conference on integrated marketing, emerging media trends and new regulations for pharma marketing. The big print is we have to be balanced in our communication about drugs — the potential upside AND the potential downside. It’s tough to share the risks of a drug in a TV spot or on billboard — and people are going away from those channels somewhat because it’s hard to comply with the regulations. Naturally, social media was a hot topic, but DDMAC (Division of Drug Marketing, Advertising and Communications, FDA) is still in the process of creating the regulations so we didn’t get much guidance.
The way I see it, most of us in the communication/marketing world actually want to tell the truth, inform physicians and consumers about the benefits and risks of various drug treatments and help people live healthier lives. It’s much more manageable, for example, to educate through direct mail, web sites, and social media — than TV, radio or outdoor. We are not limited in time or space and can more easily paint a complete picture for patients.
Because this is such a regulated industry and some major cases have been settled for misleading marketing (e.g. Purdue Pharma settled for $624 million in the OxyContin dispute) people are understandably fearful of misstepping. It’s going to make venturing into the social media world difficult until those regs are out.
Today’s Wall Street Journal has a great article on the positive impact drug makers are seeing relative to patient testimonials. Eight of the top 50 selling drugs feature real users talking about their positive experiences taking the medicines, rather than celebrities or voice-overs, according to an analysis by Gaurav Kapoor of the New England Consulting Group. Perhaps this is because we are less trusting due to years of bad publicity stemming from drug withdrawals and conflicts of interests. We want to hear from the patients, not the drug makers.