DTC ad viewers really do ask their doctors about new meds, survey finds

By Beth Snyder Bulik

TV advertising is by far the pharma industry's favorite medium for messaging. Television spending accounted for 62% of the overall $4.5 billion laid out on DTC advertising in 2014, according to recent Kantar Media data. That's not likely to change anytime soon.

Especially when it seems to be working--even when it comes to the drug ads people love to hate.

Almost one-quarter (21%) of respondents in a recent survey said they talk to a doctor about a drug or treatment after watching a TV ad. The survey, taken by pharma analytics firm Treato.com on its website, found that an additional 5.8% suggest the treatment to someone else after viewing an ad.

Compare that to response rates for typical digital display ads, for instance, where a 1% click-through rate merits celebration. The audience on Treato--patients or caregivers seeking healthcare information--is likely more engaged in health issues than most typical online consumers, but the action rate is still notable.

These in-the-know consumers also provided some ammo to those who blame pharma advertising for causing consumers to request specific drugs. The Treato survey found an even split among people who went to the doctor after viewing a drug ad: About half asked about the specific brand they saw on TV (10.7%), while the other half inquired more generally about drugs similar to the advertised brands (10.3%). That tracks with a University of Chicago study earlier this year that found DTC ads have a halo effect, tending to lift not only the promoted brands, but its entire class of meds.

Treato also asked survey respondents to match brand name medications with the conditions they treat, and here's where the oft-criticized ads come in. Of the drugs that garnered significant guesses (survey takers could elect to skip if they didn't know), Pfizer's ($PFE) Viagra and Eli Lilly's ($LLY) Cialis topped the most recognized list. About 90% and 78% of users, respectively, tagging them as erectile dysfunction meds. Not surprising, as those brand names are prominent in pop culture. The connection wasn't always positive, however; 32% of people surveyed said ED ads should never be shown on TV, and another 47% said they should only air after 9 p.m.

Case in point: A recent Viagra ad that ran during MLB playoffs shifted from traditional ED ad subtle innuendo to a woman speaking directly, and frankly, to men about "not just getting an erection but keeping it" lit up social media with complaints of "too graphic" and "offensive."

Following the two ED drugs in brand-name recognition were AstraZeneca's ($AZN) statin med Crestor at 75%, Bristol-Myers Squibb ($BMY) and Otsuka's antipsychotic Abilify at 60%, Pfizer's pain meds Celebrex and Lyrica at 53% and AbbVie's ($ABBV) anti-inflammatory Humira at 46% of users naming the correct treatment.

"The good news is that TV seems to be working well," Treato's CMO told FiercePharmaMarketing, "but the bad news is that it's not working as well for all brands."

- read the Treato release

Special Report: Top 10 DTC Pharma Advertisers - H1 2013 - Pfizer