'Ask your doctor' pitches from digital ads work almost as well as ones on TV: study

TV watcher image
TV watchers still remember drug ads more often than digital surfers do, but the online group is catching up and more often asking for drugs by name. (3dman_eu/CC0 Creative Commons)

Digital drug ads are gaining on TV in patient awareness and influence, according to a newly released patient study.

While TV ads still rule with a 65% recall among patients who saw any prescription drug ads in the past year, digital is rising with 49% remembering online ads, according to DRG Digital/Manhattan Research’s annual Cybercitizen Health study in the U.S. Another 25% of patients reported seeing ads in print, 14% remembered hearing them on the radio, and 10% recalled seeing them on billboards.

Digital ads, however, jump ahead when it comes to specific drug brand requests to doctors. Among the patients who saw digital ads, 42% requested a specific prescription from their doctor, while only 22% of those who saw TV ads asked for a particular brand.

“We tend to see that those who go online to research prescription drugs are likely to request a prescription drug in general because they’re already in active searching mode,” Rory Stanton, head of patient research at DRG Digital, said. “We think about TV as an awareness driver, and we think about digital as a conversion channel.”

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When it comes to specific drug brands, AbbVie’s anti-inflammatory Humira was the most mentioned in open-ended questioning about brands patients had seen in advertisements. Stanton said that’s not surprising, considering Humira was the most advertised drug brand last year. She declined to name others specifically but said those called out by consumers were other big-budget spenders in categories like rheumatoid arthritis and atrial fibrillation.

Another finding was around condition categories. Patients with multiple sclerosis, hypertension and Alzheimer's who asked for a specific prescription, for instance, were more likely to cite TV ads as the driver, while patients with hepatitis C, Type 1 diabetes and asthma were more likely to cite online ads. Patients with rheumatoid arthritis were driven by both TV and digital ads more than other patients in general.

One of DRG Digital’s tips for pharma based on these findings is to think about the handoff between TV and digital, Stanton said. Know that people are going online after seeing TV ads, and make sure landing pages are optimized to help patients find the information they need. Also make sure search buys are optimized so that your brand comes to the top of the search page.

RELATED: Big spenders Humira, Lyrica and Xeljanz drop $25M each on TV spending for July

Another tip: Don’t let other brands in the same category hijack your TV spend. Some brands have been known to bid up competitors’ brand names and disease condition search terms online to try to jump ahead of the TV-advertised brand in consumer searches.

Matthew Arnold, principal analyst at Decision Resources Group, added, “If you’re plunking down tons of money on TV and you’re sleeping on your digital follow through, you’re wasting money. And if your competitors are smart and surveying the digital terrain, they’re going to see the digital opportunity and steal margin on you.”

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