Will pharma marketing to Hispanics finally gain traction in 2016?

Marketing to Hispanics hasn't been a pharma strength. In fact, it's been a weakness; pharma spending on targeted marketing lags most advertisers. Pharma's ad budget for Hispanic media dropped to 2.5% of their spending in 1014, while the top 500 marketers increased theirs to 8.5% of their total, according to the Association of Hispanic Advertising Agencies (AHAA).

But Hispanics would seem to be a key target market for pharma. As a group, they spend less on drugs--60% less than non-Hispanics--and use 40% fewer medications. However, in a few chronic diseases--diabetes, chronic liver disease and cirrhosis--Hispanics post higher death rates than non-Hispanics, according to the CDC.

Outside observers also note the potential; Kelton Global, for one, called Hispanics "pharma's untapped consumer" in a recent report. Venture capitalist Julie Papanek predicted in TechCrunch that last year was going to be the year that "Latinos become the most desired healthcare segment in the U.S."

So what happened? And more importantly, will anything change in 2016?

Carlos Santiago, research chair, AHAA, and president and chief strategist, Santiago Solutions Group

"Every year we acknowledge we need to do something, but things really haven't changed much in the last 15 years," said Carlos Santiago, research chair at AHAA and president and chief strategist of Santiago Solutions Group.

The biggest impediment has to do with regulations and translations, he said. When drugs are approved with specific allowed claims, it's usually in English only. Pharma companies seem wary of simply translating English to Spanish, for fear of making a mistake, much less creating tailored campaigns that take into account culture and lifestyle, Santiago told FiercePharmaMarketing.

"They seem to feel restrained by government regulations. It's almost as if it's a straitjacket that they feel is very tight, and they have almost no ability to adapt messages to the behavioral reality of Hispanic consumers," he said.

The result is most drug campaigns are English-only with no specific target messages or media placements to reach Hispanics.

Of course, there are exceptions. A Boehringer Ingelheim diabetes awareness effort in 2015 featured an integrated storyline in a Univision telenovela. The campaign, which included one of the telenovela's stars, whose TV character has Type 2 diabetes, was "one of the most noteworthy examples out there," Santiago said.

His hope is that not only will pharma take note of those kinds of integrated, comprehensive and culturally aware campaigns, but also begin to think about Hispanic consumers earlier in the lifecycle of the drug, when it's in development, clinical trials, test markets and in the concept stage for marketing.

"It's seen as an afterthought, sometimes so much of an afterthought that the pharma marketers just say forget it," he said.

- get AHAA's study (PDF)
- check out CDC stats
- read Kelton Global's report