The Pharma industry is waking up to the idea that emotional DTC advertising works. That is, when the emotional hook is well connected to the rational benefits of the brand. These ads will be noticed and are most likely to drive discussion with a doctor, which will result in a script.
For example, recent Chantix ads that featured Ray Liotta were extremely effective. Positive reaction to the ad was not based on the delivery of facts, but rather on the establishment of "trust." If you go on YouTube, you will find an interview with Ray Liotta where he talks about doing these ads. He admits that he was paid well, but goes on to say that he wanted to do the ads because he really believes in the product. And he wants others like him to have a better future free from the fear of cancer. Ray's honesty comes through in these ads and it is highly effective.
Which Emotions Work Best?
Ad agencies have desperately tried for years to prove that emotional DTC advertising works. Now with more sophisticated research techniques, the evidence is in. Pharma ads with emotional resonance are particularly effective. DTC advertising that delivers on feelings of "leadership," "honesty," "trust," and "love" are most likely to hit the mark. Emotional context draws the patient in and they will seek help.
Not to overstate the role of the emotional hook, it is also critical that the ad has a strong connection to the brand so that when the patient talks with their doctor, they can identify the brand. If a patient talks about Ray, the doctor knows they are talking about Chantix (it is the only medication in the category). However, Eli Lilly had to establish the "tubs" as a brand cue. Because even as it established a strong emotional hook with its ads, it had to make sure that it was not selling the category, which at the time was dominated by Viagra. Pharma is not likely to drop DTC marketing in the near future, given that it can yield anywhere from 2:1 to 5:1 return on investment (ROI).
Why Emotional DTC Marketing Is So Effective
The primary task of DTC advertising is to educate patients about treatment options available to them... but, as with advertising for all categories, the first task is to get their attention. In the early days of DTC, much of the advertising took a highly rational approach. And it was not very effective. Or in some cases, it took the wrong emotional approach. For example, when Lipitor ads stressed the fear of a heart attack, CV patients tuned it out. They did not want to be scared. "Fear" is not a motivator of patient action; "love" is. This is demonstrated by the very positive emotional theme developed by Brilinta advertising feature Bob Harper. It shows how he can be there for his family.
When talking with a doctor, patient involvement in the selection of a therapeutic approach varies by category. It is lowest for asymptomatic categories such as CV and diabetes. In those categories, advertising must work harder to be noticed. For respiratory, CNS and especially oncology, patient involvement is extremely important. In these categories, patients take a highly active role in the selection of medication. They are the most likely to pay attention to DTC Advertising.
Vraylar Portrays The Emotional Roller Coaster of BPD
Vraylar demonstrates how emotional DTC advertising can catch patient attention. But it also flags the potential backlash to the emotional approach. In the recent Vrayklar ad, we see how a woman is riding the emotional waves of her condition. Allergan executives working on the campaign noted that "the intention is to help more people who may be living with the condition recognize the symptoms and talk to their doctors to seek appropriate treatment.” However, it risks losing their attention because it is highly rooted in the emotion of "fear." Patients in this category already experience acute fear. They avoid feeling it.
Patient Suffering Is Highly Emotional
Patients have a wide range of emotions related to their conditions. The types of emotions should be carefully considered when developing DTC advertising for each category. Cancer patients typically experience "fear" that is best addressed by advertising that stresses "hope." CV patients also feel fear. However, unlike reactions to advertising in the oncology space, we find that CV patients are not so motivated by "hope" for themselves. Instead they are seeking "reassurance" from advertising, especially as it relates to those who are closest to them.
In some categories, DTC advertising is utterly failing because it misses the correct emotional triggers. Diabetes is a glaring example. Over 25 million Americans are affected by the disease. While many of these patients treat their disease effectively, most do not. Pharma companies have spent hundreds of millions in advertising to reach these patients. But generally speaking, this advertising is not very effective. Why? Because it focuses on the rational benefits of the medication (A1C)—which falls flat among many who suffer from the condition.
In a major segmentation project, we found that a very large group of diabetes patients ignore DTC advertising which stresses functional benefits. For these patients, the primary emotional associations related to the condition are "failure/stigma" and "hopelessness." They often feel that they brought this problem on themselves. They avoid information that reminds them of their failure.
Pharma can take lessons from the approaches used in the CNS category many years ago. We learned that a stress on "fear" is not successful. Unlike the ad for Zoloft which stresses "hope." The Zoloft ad uses a cartoon to humanize depression for patients, showing them that they were not to blame for the condition. More recently, Abilify showed how patients could overcome the gloom of their lives. Both campaigns gave patients a sense of "honesty" and "love" most likely to trigger action.
Emotional DTC Marketing Can Address The Diabetes Epidemic
As one of the least well treated categories, it is possible for Pharma to use its robust patient marketing budgets to turn around the diabetes epidemic by showing diabetics that they are not to blame. And that there is hope for their condition.
Emotional DTC advertising is highly effective because it speaks to our hearts. It calms our fears and builds our trust. Of course, we need information about the treatment options that are available to us. But first, we need to believe that these treatments can help solve the problems that we face.