Pharmaguy's Insights Into Drug Industry News
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Pharmaguy's Insights Into Drug Industry News
Pharmaguy curates and provides insights into selected drug industry news and issues.
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Ad Age Ed to #Pharma: "Take a Chill Pill," Dude! Learn from Tobacco Industry

Ad Age Ed to #Pharma: "Take a Chill Pill," Dude! Learn from Tobacco Industry | Pharmaguy's Insights Into Drug Industry News |

[Comments from Ken Wheaton, the editor of Advertising Age]:


Are pharmaceutical executives insane or have they simply been dipping into the product a little too much? It's a rude question, I know, but it's one worth asking.


I was a little flummoxed by some of the industry "reasoning" put forward in our piece about pharmaceutical companies turning to terror tactics in their marketing (see here;


To be clear, no one's confused about why companies are using scare tactics. Because fearmongering works. It's Advertising 101. And there's no better way to monger some fear than "Buy this or die."


What's a little confusing is the idea that companies need to get darker with advertising and spend more money on advertising because prices have increased. Are we sure that cause and effect isn't exactly backward?


Sure, I get that there is a lot of expensive research and development that goes into making pharmaceuticals that work. And an economist could argue that drug research, manufacturing, pricing and the subsequent marketing all add up to a complex ecosystem.


But to the average consumer, or even to politicians, there's no mystery here.


Pharmaceutical companies are jacking up prices, and one of the reasons they're doing that is because they're paying for multibillion-dollar ad campaigns used to scare people into buying more drugs. [Pharma spends even MORE – perhaps 5X as much - “motivating” PHYSICIANS to prescribe more drugs!]


…In the last couple of years, we've not only seen more scary drug ads, it seems like we're seeing new diseases. It's one thing to say, "Here's a cure for those allergies you've always had." It's another to say, "You've never heard of pneumococcal pneumonia until today, but it might kill your mom." Or: "Sure, you've heard of that meningitis, but have you heard about this other one that might kill your son after he makes out at a party?" (So goes the basic premise for a spot for Pfizer's Trumenba. See here: Or: "Grandma will turn into a wolf and slobber disease all over your baby if she doesn't get this whooping cough vaccine” (see here:


That last was from GSK. A spokesperson assured us the wolf was symbolic and it was CGI (you know, because that was the concern). She also said the ad tested well with grandparents. Of course it did. Like I said, fearmongering is a powerful marketing tool. Especially when dealing with grandparents and grandchildren. It's downright genius.


My prescription? Just because you can do something doesn't mean you should. Dial back the fearmongering. Don't price-gouge. Don't throw up roadblocks for generics. Show some restraint and listen to complaints.


Otherwise, prepare yourselves for the possibility that this particular corner of the marketing world may go the way of tobacco.

Pharma Guy's insight:

Comments on this from Bob Ehrlich, Chairman, DTC Perspectives: "In a world of no DTC, drug makers will still price as high as the market will bear. That is the same strategy used by every business including what Ad Age charges their advertisers. Mr. Wheaton is very convinced in his anecdotal and observational argument. Ad Age’s Mr. Wheaton is wrong about the facts, however, and in his cynicism about the value of drug ads."


While DTC advertising alone may have little impact on drug prices, the TOTAL drug promotion budget -- including physician detailing, advertising, and "education" -- adds up to just about what pharma spends on R&D (read my analysis here: “Promotion vs. R&Deja vu all over again!”;, which is often used by the industry to justify high drig prices. So, it makes perfect sense to also blams promotional costs for high drug prices, IMHO.

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Awash in Criticism, Mylan Has Decreased its Fearmongering Awareness Advertising

Awash in Criticism, Mylan Has Decreased its Fearmongering Awareness Advertising | Pharmaguy's Insights Into Drug Industry News |

Amid the rising controversy surrounding price increases to $600 or more for its allergy-combatting EpiPen, owner Mylan has drastically decreased the frequency of airings of its "Face Your Risk" commercial, according to research compiled for Ad Age by media research firm


The 30-second spot, which debuted as part of a larger campaign in late April, features a terrifying scene in which a woman with a peanut allergy accidentally eats a peanut-butter-filled brownie at a party (read “Mylan TV Spot for "": Doesn't Mention Risk of Not Being Able to Afford EpiPen!”;


Since the spot is filmed from the perspective of the victim, viewers see the horrified expressions of other partygoers before glimpsing the bloated and blotchy face of the allergy sufferer in a mirror. Interestingly, the spot makes no mention of the EpiPen, but directs consumers to an awareness website which then leads to a separate EpiPen information website.


Mylan has spent $14.7 million running the ad—44% of the company's total 2016 TV spending so far this year -- on the campaign, according to iSpot. The ad ran 326 times the week of July 31. Yet in recent weeks, as the public outcry against Mylan has grown, the spots are appearing less often. Mylan ran the commercial 292 times the week of Aug. 7, 66 times the week of Aug. 14, and has only aired it twice in the last four days, iSpot found.


A published list of healthcare awards given in 2015 by DTC Perspectives cites Publicis Lifebrands Evolvr as creating an print ad for EpiPen that made its finalist list. Publicis did not immediately return calls for comment.


Initial reaction to the "Face Your Risk" commercial was positive on social media, as many said it illustrated the true and often shocking nature of peanut allergies. Yet sentiment has soured more recently.


One healthcare marketing expert said Mylan is not alone in its fearmongering as a way to get consumers on board with its pricey product. John Mack, who runs electronic newsletter Pharma Marketing News, noted that he is seeing an increase in scary ad campaigns.


"A trend with companies, especially ones with injectable drugs and vaccines, which also have big price increases, is to scare people into buying their product or getting their vaccine," he said.

Pharma Guy's insight:

But has Mylan decreased its EpiPen branded advertising? i.e., its DTC Prespective "award winning" print ads in women's mags?


Did you catch my quote at the end of this article?


Also read for background: “Mylan CEO Bresch, aka ‘Pharma Sis,’ Defends Price Gouging, Tax Evasion as Job Savers”; However, Bresch did not mention THAT in defense of EpiPen’s price increase during her recent CNBC interview. No, she blamed the U.S. healthcare system: “Mylan CEO Bresch Says Healthcare in Crisis No Different Than 2007 Financial Crisis!”;

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#Pharma Marketers' Fear Tactics in Ads Can Backfire When Perceived as "Jerking Consumers Around to Get Their Money" 

#Pharma Marketers' Fear Tactics in Ads Can Backfire When Perceived as "Jerking Consumers Around to Get Their Money"  | Pharmaguy's Insights Into Drug Industry News |

Fear sells--and pharma marketers have been accused lately of overusing that tactic.


First, there was GlaxoSmithKline's whooping cough vaccine ad, which portrayed a sick grandmother as a wolf as she held an infant grandchild. Then, there was Novartis' heart failure awareness ad that showed a room filling with water as an unsuspecting man calmly read the newspaper. More recently, Mylan and Pfizer have jumped into the mix with anaphylaxis and meningitis B ads, respectively, that both feature stricken teens who end up in the hospital.


[See this Slideshare presentation for a complete catalog of scary pharma ads:] 


Last week, Advertising Age pointed to Big Pharma's “terror tactics." (see here:


One reason for the potential increase in pharma's use of fear tactics? These days, it's harder to get people's attention, given the growing number of media sources. So in advertising--as well as in the news media itself--"more attention-getting approaches are certainly proliferating,” said David Ropiek, a Harvard instructor and author who studies risk perception and risk communication.


One thing the recent ads all have in common: They're disease awareness ads that don't promote specific products. Still, using fear as a motivator can also create a negative backlash, both from the media and consumers, whether it is branded work or disease awareness.


“The overtness of the scary message, particularly in an advertisement … can raise suspicion in the viewer of mistrust in the messenger--‘I’m not going to buy that because they’re trying to jerk me around to get my money,'" Ropiek said.

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