Target: The Sleepless
The usual direct-to-consumer (DTC) ad schtick. Beautiful images, a tired woman finding needed rest and a voiceover with warnings about operating heavy equipment.
Given the billion-plus dollar payout, you can be sure that the production value on this and all other DTC ads is top quality (and this is really a review of this whole class of ads, not just this particular spot as I doubt Lunesta would make an advertising blog on artistic merit.) Lunesta in particular has also made the clever move of making a $60mm ad purchase primarily against late-night TV which is as good an example of finding the target consumer when they need the product as you will ever see.
First, brands represent a promise to consumers. They must present the consumer with a clear value proposition expressed through tangible or intangible product benefits. Tangible benefits may be the performance or other attributes and features of the product while intangible benefits are most often emotional – think prestige, style, sense of security, etc.
The problem with DTC advertising is that it presents an incomplete value proposition. The consumer is presented with medical benefits and risks. This is called “Fair Balance” in FDA-speak. But the consumer doesn’t really have the data set to evaluate the proposition. A doctor may understand that the relative risks of grogginess from Lunesta are less than Ambien and may assess a particular patient as being a good candidate for one or another. But the consumer is not really in a position to make this judgement. So ultimately, this type of advertising cheats the consumer. It asks us to accept a value proposition based entirely on product performance knowing full well that we are not qualified to make that judgement. It also does this knowing that we will then go to our doctors and ask for one drug or another when they may not be suitable for us or necessary at all. Doctors being generally inclined to try to help people are more likely to prescribe drugs that are borderline unnecessary when patients flood them with requests.
This is a branding slant on the standard argument against DTC advertising. It should sound familiar to anyone involved in the debate. However I think there’s another good branding reason to avoid DTC advertising.
DTC advertising is bad branding because it focuses the consumers attention on product performance and does little to build the more important emotional attributes of the brand. There has been some attempt to differentiate brand and to do pure image advertising for DTC brands, but without ANY brand proposition, they are singularly ineffective.
The ennumeration of side effects in DTC advertising (like being reminded that the Viagra erection may come with a blinding headache) creates a big problem from a branding standpoint. It immediately creates an emotional distance between the consumer and the brand. This drug may HURT me, you say to yourself as you listen to the ‘fair balance’ language at the end of the ad. You realize that you need to be careful with the drug. If you had never seen the ad and your doctor (being careful for you) prescribed the drug, you might not have had these side effects. Or you might not have considered them serious. If the drug had really helped you, you might have developed a strong loyalty to the brand. You might pay the extra co-pay to get it even when generics became available.
But with the DTC advertising warning you about the risks and dangers of the product, you won’t make that emotional connection. Your first impression of the brand – the one you will take with you throughout the rest of your relationship – was tainted with warnings.
I ask you why would any sane brand manager want a consumer to make this kind of ambivalent emotional connection with her brand? Why remind consumers that using a new drug is like going on on a blind date? By focusing on the aggregate risks and benefits of the drug, the DTC brands forego the opportunity to build a relationship based on the individual consumer’s actual experience. And they also may deprive patients of the emotional benefit they feel when they take something their doctor recommends that may help them feel better. Doing something good for yourself feels good in itself or there wouldn’t be much of a market for bath salts. Let’s not forget that the majority of these drugs are not curing anything – they help decrease symptoms (like pain) of disease or natural aging that we don’t like.
So here’s a thought for the pharma companies who are wasting money and our time with DTC advertising. Focus on making doctors as knowledgable as they should be. Don’t try to buy them off with lunches for the staff, speaking junkets or trinkets. Let our physicians be advocates for us as patients. If we as consumers want to know about drugs, we’ll read the PDA or search for good comparative information from medical websites online. If the drug does what it says it will and you keep the quality high, you will get our loyalty.
Branding Bottom Line -
Lunesta delivers a good quality spot which does nothing good for the consumer or the industry.