You Can’t Stop: It’s BIG PHARMA!

BIG PHARMA began spending millions of dollars on Direct-to-Consumer Advertising (DTCA) in the 80s, however today they are pouring billions of dollars budget just because reach their consumer and say them why they should take their prescribed drugs and keep using regularly.

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Direct-to-consumer advertising (DTCA) of pharmaceutical has been legal only in two countries throughout the world: New Zealand and USA. As of 1997, in USA, Food and Drug Administration (FDA) obliged companies to provide detailed side effect lists, therefore companies started to pour billions dollars into preparing long television infomercials ending with this uniform message: “If you suffer from (..disease..),  talk to your doctor whether (..particular drug..) is right for you. According to Big Pharma, the main intended idea lying behind DTCA was obvious: educating patient about treatment options, diseases and increase their awareness. It was the best promotional tactic for pharmaceutical manufacturers who are intended to boost demand for their products. At the time, DTCA was geared through physicians and BIG PHARMA gained the huge revenues from this effective promotional tool.

Let’s go back in  time a bit!! American scientist, distinguished doctor and entrepreneur who known for artificial heart inventor, Robert Jarvik, came to the forefront with the Pfizer’s cholesterol-lowering drug: Lipitor. In high rotating commercial on TV, he turns to cameras by saying:  ‘Just because I’m a doctor doesn’t mean I don’t worry about my cholesterol.’ and adds his advices people to use Lipitor. Actually, he was neither a medical doctor and nor had a licence to practice medicine but he gained the company more than $12 billion sales after advertisement (WHO 2016). Even though the campaign came under scrutiny from Congressional Committee due to its misleading message, Lipitor had become the world’s best-selling drug among competitive cheaper generics!

As we can guess, DTCA has been the largest benefactor at that times but unintended consequences and effects on the government health budget were required to bring some sort of regulations. Promotion of the prescribed drug via DTCA on broadcast media, Direct-to-Physicians Promotion through company sales persons and promotional samples given to doctors have been restricted via Food and Drug Administration rules (NBER 2010). $144 billion dollars R&D spending-One trillion dollars sales- US$300 billion yearly market BUT HIGHLY RESTRICTED MARKETING!! So then, how does a pharmaceutical company connect with consumer? How do they analyse and segment them?

Social media is becoming ideal channel to educate consumer, market their drugs, connect patients with physicians and even encourage them to enrolment for clinical trials. However, FDA begun to present difficulties on these platforms as well. Inaccurately posted drug usage, BENEFITS and side effects are accepted against regulations. However, pharmaceuticals are always looking for ways to have a leg up on their competitors through innovative approaches.

Physician-Targeted Pharma Apps

Digital advertising is creating the new pathways in order to market to doctors. Sales representatives, gifts, promotions, medical congress and influential lectures by opinion leaders are lagging behind. Because today 75% of physicians lost their trust in information provided by drug companies. Many of them claims that they need unbiased data coming from neutral and third party channels (Franck 2015).

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Not surprisingly, mobile smartphone applications enable companies to target them providing which kinds of data they are looking up. One of them, ‘The Advanced RCC Prognostic Calculator’ was provided by Pfizer in order for doctors to measure prognostic risk of patients with advanced renal cell carcinoma. The tool provide doctor with research-based data about kidney cancer so that they can manage their patients in more practical way!


Looking Forward with Social Media

Theoretically, social media involvement, including both cognitive –informational processing and affective-emotional processing leads to high brand responses and increased purchasing behaviours. Therefore, especially using celebrity endorsements is becoming popular tactics for brand-name companies (Drugwatch 2015).

One of the most successful combination comes from Bayer to market its anticoagulant, or blood thinners agent Xarelto in the US market. Professional golfer Arnold Palmer, NASCAR driver Brian Vickers and comedian Kevin Nealon come together in the same commercial and share with each other positive experiences with Xeralto. Obviously, the main reasons for the celebrity promotion were to raise awareness of a disease and increase the public participation. When it comes to the fact that the drug became a billion-dollar bestseller in short time, it was just of a smaller part of it!!





Weinmeyer, R 2013, Direct-to-Consumer Advertising of Drugs, vol. 15, no. 11, American Medical Association Journal of Ethics, retrieved 5 May 2016, <

WHO 2016, Direct-To-Consumer Advertising Under Fire, vol. 87, no.8, Bulletin of the World Health Organization, retrieved 5 May 2016, <>.

Saffer, H and Dave, D 2010, The Impact Of Direct-To-Consumer Advertising On Pharmaceutical Prices And Demand, Working Paper of National Bureau Of Economic Research, retrieved 6 May 2016, <;.

Franck, C 2015, Infographic: Pharma adoption of social media: A prescription for physician engagement, Deloitte Center for Health Solutions, retrieved 6 May 2016, <;.

Drugwatch 2015, Pharmaceutical Marketing, Drugwatch, retrieved 7 April 2016, <;.

Karpińska-Krakowiak, M 2014, ‘Conceptualising And Measuring Consumer Engagement In Social Media – Implications For Personal Involvement’, retrieved 6 May 2016, Contemporary Management Quarterly / Wspólczesne Zarzadzanie, vol. 13, no. 1, pp. 49-65, Academic Search Complete, EBSCOhost.



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