A recent survey published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) reported that the medical marketing spend in the United States rose from approximately $17.7 billion in 1997 to just under $30 billion in 2016. The biggest growth came from Direct-to-Consumer (DTC) marketing, which increased from 11.9% to 32% of the total spend.
Several factors are responsible for the higher spend on DTC marketing. First of all, the study found that it seems to work — patients often specifically requested advertised drugs even when effective lower-cost alternatives were available. The authors also noted that DTC marketing enabled the advertisers to influence patients and caregivers directly for both drugs and services. Not only pharmaceutical companies, but hospitals, dental offices, cancer and mental health treatment centers, and diagnostic laboratories have increasingly engaged in DTC advertising to market their offerings.
With this focus on patients and caregivers, advertisers are increasingly adopting digital and experiential marketing strategies and tactics associated with consumer marketing. Indeed, one of the most prominent pharmaceutical and healthcare marketing firms, McCann Health, recently hired a global Creative Chief from consumer advertising agency J. Walter Thompson.
Consumer marketing practices in healthcare are likely to continue to grow. Apps and other personal devices aimed at helping patients manage and take charge of their own health are particularly suited to consumer marketing approaches. Drug development is increasingly aimed at precision medicine and patient-centricity, making the focus on individual patients important not only for their health outcome but also for product differentiation. In addition, consumer advertisements for some of the novel and typically high-priced immuno-oncology drugs have been surprisingly effective, not only for reaching patients but also for educating and influencing Wall Street, investors and physicians. These ads are helping to change consumer conversations about cancer, educating patients and healthcare professionals about new treatments that offer possible alternatives to surgery, chemotherapy and radiation.
Finally, we’ve written several times in recent weeks about the rise of AI and machine learning in the pharmaceutical and healthcare world, and so it should not be too surprising that at least one major company is adopting AI as a sales and marketing tool. Novartis has developed a “Virtual Assistant” to increase efficiency of its sales force, suggesting which healthcare professionals to visit and what topic(s) to discuss that are most relevant to each specific physician.