In the 1980s, HIV was a scourge on the population, killing over 100K people by 1991. Stigma and general ignorance about it seriously undermined treatment.
To confront these problems, patient communication programs funded by governments and foundations were initiated. This type of patient education was novel, with almost no precedent. A famous PSA launched in the UK was the “Don’t Die of Ignorance” campaign. Similar campaigns in the US were used to change the public impression of the disease.
These patient education programs were a vital part of the strategy to reduce the spread of HIV. Along with advancements in treatment, the HIV mortality rate was significantly decreased over the next decade. However, HIV continues to pose a grave threat to many. Approximately 1.2 million people in the US have HIV and about 13 percent of them don’t know about it and need testing. In other categories that are "silent" (non-symptomatic), these types of programs are very important.
Prevention of the condition is also very important. Patient education efforts from the government and foundations are now being supplemented by education and DTC marketing efforts from Pharma companies that make medication to prevent and treat HIV.
Gilead DTC Marketing for Descovy
Descovy is a medication that helps people that are sexually active lower their chances of getting HIV. Following in the footsteps of early HIV marketing, Gilead talks about the “real people” who are using Descovy. In its TV ad, Gilead visualizes a wide variety of people who might contract the disease.
Chris Freeman, Gilead’s vice president of U.S. sales and marketing says, “We know oftentimes this can be stereotyped to one or two specific populations, but in reality that’s simply not true. There are some less traditional groups and harder-to-reach groups we’re hoping this campaign resonates with.”
Ahead of industry trends, Gilead is also shifting a large percentage of its spend from TV and print into digital forms of advertising. Among the leading DTC spenders, companies that make HIV brands had the highest percentage (28%) of its spend in digital in 2021.
This is more than double the amount that companies in the HIV category spent on digital marketing in the prior year. Among these companies, Gilead has recognized that digital can deliver “information rich” communication. Unlike other channels (especially TV), this can help patients to understand HIV prevention and treatment better.
GlaxoSmithKline/ViiV DTC Marketing for Cabenuva
Treatment of HIV is critical once it is contracted. Until now, patients took HIV medication on a daily basis. That changed with the introduction of Cabenuva in 2021. It is a long-acting injectable that patients can take every other month. This clearly improves ease of use of this medication. In its marketing, Cabenuva points out why this is important. It can affect how they think about HIV. It no longer has to be part of their daily routine. Robin Gaitens, ViiV Healthcare product and community communications director commented that, “While people living with HIV are generally satisfied with daily pills, some struggle with self-stigma, fear that their HIV status will be disclosed or the constant reminder of their diagnosis." This approach helps patients with these issues.
Information Benefits of DTC Marketing and Patient Communication
The threat of HIV is no longer as great as it was in the 80's. In those days, PSA's like “Don't Die of Ignorance” were necessary to overcome stigma and shake the population out of complacency. However, this does not mean that HIV has gone away. Efforts by foundations and product makers are helping to support awareness and treatment of HIV, leading to the best health outcomes.