Listen to celebrity drug ads? Patients do hear, but they don't obey

Celebrities are making more and more appearances in pharma's DTC advertising, from Jon Bon Jovi repping Pfizer's ($PFE) Advil to Rascal Flatts signing on to help promote Pfizer's new over-the-counter Nexium. The way drugmakers see it, celeb endorsements help their meds score with patients the same way they help sell consumer goods. Or do they?

Not so much, according to a new study published in the International Journal of Pharmaceutical and Healthcare Marketing. In fact, the presence of a celebrity endorser in a disease-specific DTC ad has a "negligible" impact on consumers, its authors say.

In the study, researchers showed respondents ads featuring a celebrity--actor Harrison Ford or actress Ashley Judd--or ads with altered images that reflected the age and sex of the two celebrities without giving away their identities, Pharmafile reports. Participants then completed questionnaires detailing their reactions.

While study respondents did pay more attention to the celebrity-containing ads and view them as more credible, that didn't translate into influence. The personal relevance of the advertisements--not the celebrities making the pitches--affected consumer attitudes toward the ad and company.

Brent Rollins

"This research demonstrates that even if consumers deem the celebrity as more credible and pay significantly greater attention to the ad, it does not change the desire to act and search for more information, discuss the disease with their doctor or ask for a prescription," joint author Brent Rollins of the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine said, as quoted by Pharmafile.

So if celebrities aren't getting the job done, where should pharma turn? Two words: the Internet.

Pharma marketers need to be getting the most they can out of the Internet, Rollins said. That includes putting it toward the patient-centric theme that so many drugmakers are talking about these days. And not just in DTC, either.

"Moving forward, pharmaceutical marketers must learn to harness and maximize the Internet's potential, including the use of disease education-focused websites and trend toward personalization in all forms of marketing," he said.

- see the study abstract
- get more from Pharmafile

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