Total recall? Not quite…

Total recall? Not quite…

Chase, James

Around 150 million Americans say they are able to recall direct-to-consumer ads, according to Manhattan Research (page 28).That represents a group far bigger than the combined populations of Canada, the U.K. and Australia. But what exactly do they recall? How many drug-specific risks can they remember?

The answer is probably just one. This one: “Erections lasting longer than four hours require medical assistance.” It’s a warning tailor-made for television. It shocks, amuses, fires the imagination and sticks in your memory. I am, of course, referring to risk information for Cialis (or “The marketing slogan of 2004,” as David Carter, principal of the Sports Business Group in L. A.,put it).

Unfortunately, for everyone outside of the erectile dysfunction space, few other drug side effects have this kind of small-screen appeal. It certainly poses a challenge for DTC marketers, who are under pressure to remain innovative while the responsibility wagon gathers momentum.

Last month, MM&M reporter Matthew Arnold suggested in a DTC article that, with an increasingly sophisticated FDA, “rather than weighing the risk information contained in ads solely from a narrow, legalistic standpoint, companies must ask themselves: How will a consumer look at this?”

Well, as a consumer, often I don’t look at it at all. I understand the importance of conveying risks, but I am weary from listening to the same language, the same tone, the same tired formula. 1 switch off mentally. Even threatening words like “heart attack” and “stroke” soon ring hollow, and eventually ring silent. So when I get to the part of the ad that warns, “It could be the sign of a serious condition,” I often find myself asking, “Wait… what could?” I missed it again.

Enter the next generation of risk conveyance. Spurred by varying degrees of regulatory and public pressure – and realizing, perhaps, that using voiceovers to convey risks while distracting viewers with visuals is like broadcasting a shipping forecast to a theme park – some companies are making a real go of trying to break the formula. Two recent efforts, Ortho Evra and Crestor, are using real people to convey the risks of these drugs, loudly and clearly. It certainly makes the companies and brands appear more trustworthy. But it’s still… a little boring.

The trouble is, TV is not the right fit for disseminating this type of information. Mass-media DTC ads are not just competing with other DTC ads, they are competing with all ads. And conveying risks louder and clearer, and for longer, is not going to cut it against a crop of attention-getting consumer spots. The Internet, not TV, is the ideal vehicle for risk information.

Last year while visiting Australia (where DTC is not permitted) I was surprised to see a familiar Novartis commercial in which our friend Digger the Dermatophyte popped the “hood” of a toenail and ran amok, just as he does over here. Except that Lamisil was never mentioned and, consequently, there was no requirement to convey risks. The ad had broken free from its shackles.

The call to action was simple: Talk to your doctor. And presumably, when you do, she will introduce you to Lamisil – based, perhaps, on your description of Digger – and warn you about the risks. No doubt she will also have a stack of Lamisil leaflets featuring the same animated character you saw scampering around in the commercial.

Of course, the decision to run unbranded ads is easier when you own a category. But unless you have a four-hour-erection risk card up your sleeve, unbranded ads might be the way to go – free of the clutter of regulatory demands, they have the potential to be far more engaging and impactful.

Copyright CPS Communications May 2005

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