Drug ads miss the mark with patients who need treatment the most

DTC advertisers specialize in delivering messages patients can relate to about their diseases. But what about patients with two diseases, or even 6 or more? People who deal with more than one chronic illness--think diabetes and heart disease, for example--respond very differently to their healthcare. A new study shows they respond differently to healthcare advertising, too. And that means direct-to-consumer marketing may be falling short.

JWT's brand intelligence team and Galileo Research and Strategy identified a host of factors that can change the lives and attitudes of patients dealing with more than one chronic illness. Managing their health problems takes more time and money. It comes with greater emotional challenges. And those things affect their healthcare decisions.

With more than 50% of people over 65 living with at least two chronic diseases, that's a lot of misunderstood patients. And the more conditions patients deal with, the less they feel advertisers really "get" them, research showed. Patients battling only diabetes said DTC ads mostly made them feel understood, but diabetics with at least two other chronic illnesses weren't so satisfied. "Ads aren't talking to me--they have no idea what it's like for me," one participant said.

Paula Deen

That means Big Pharma's go-to diabetes marketing tactics--awareness and education campaigns, possibly featuring a celebrity spokesperson à la Novo Nordisk ($NVO) and Paula Deen--aren't going to cut it going forward. If advertisers want to hit their marks, they're going to have to refocus their approaches to center on patients themselves rather than their specific conditions, the JWT/Galileo team says. That means putting an emphasis on empathy and tone, which "will likely be as important as, if not more important than, claims, features and benefits," Mark Truss, JWT's global director of brand intelligence, told FiercePharmaMarketing.

And there's a big opportunity out there for the first drugmaker that gets it right. "On a corporate level, marketers should consider addressing the issue of living with multiple morbidities on a macro level--seizing the leadership territory as the pharmaceutical company that understands and cares about patients' reality and that is committed to creating real support and change in the industry," Truss said.