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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Merck Uses Humor & Fear to Promote Zostavax Shingles Vaccine

Merck Uses Humor & Fear to Promote Zostavax Shingles Vaccine | Pharmaguy's Insights Into Drug Industry News |

Are you the type of consumer motivated by fear? Or are you more likely to take action based on advice from a humorous celeb? Doesn't matter--Merck & Co., in a push to boost vaccine sales before new competition arrives, has a shingles commercial for you.


The company is currently airing two ad types that couldn't be more different from one another. In one--dubbed "Surprise Door Knock"--NFL analyst and former quarterback Terry Bradshaw barges into the home of a trio of adults to explain with gusto the nasty effects of shingles and caution them to ask their doctors for more info.


"We all in?" he asks, as they pile their hands atop each other's with a rousing chorus of "yes!" "Good--'cause if not, we're gonna watch highlights of my career 12 hours straight. I know--talk about pain!" he says with a laugh.


Merck's other currently running spots are much more serious and somber. "Day #7 with Shingles" and "Day #18 with Shingles" each depict a sufferer trying to go about his daily life. One struggles through a dismal day at the office thanks to shingles pain, and the other gives up on a game of golf because of it, while a colleague and friend go one-on-one with the camera to express their concerns.


The one thing the ads all have in common? Graphic depictions of the condition, which can cause unsightly rashes and blistering of the skin. And, of course, pain.


Merck has good reason to want to reach a broad spectrum of adults with its awareness push. Fellow vaccine behemoth GlaxoSmithKline has a shingles candidate, Shingrix, coming up the pipeline, and when it's finally ready to roll, the British company expects it to be a "major market disrupter" for Merck's Zostavax.


Pharma Guy's insight:

I updated my "Gallery of Scary Pharma Industry Advertising" PPT on Slideshare to include these ads (see


Which brand name is more memorable:  Zostavax or Shingrix? It seems to me that consumers are not likely to remember either name - not that it matters much if there is not much difference in effectiveness. 

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All We Have to Fear is... Scary #Pharma Disease Awareness Ads!

All We Have to Fear is... Scary #Pharma Disease Awareness Ads! | Pharmaguy's Insights Into Drug Industry News |

Novartis may have just handed the many critics of pharmaceutical advertising a gift.

The drug maker is running a promotional campaign, including a 30-second TV spot, designed to raise awareness of heart failure. But the campaign, which features a man blissfully sitting in an easy chair while water quickly fills his living room, is being called “alarmist,” “terrifying” and “shameful” by heart specialists, according to CardioBrief.

The TV ad does have an ominous feel to it. As water rises, a voice warns that “heart failure is always on the rise. Symptoms worsen because your heart isn’t pumping well. About 50 percent of people die within five years of getting diagnosed. But there’s something you can do. Talk to your doctor about heart failure treatment options. Because the more you know, the more likely you are to keep pumping.”

The controversy arises just three months after the American Medical Association called for a ban on direct-to-consumer advertising of prescription medicines. In reaching its decision, the professional society argued that the advertising is designed to generate demand for new and expensive drugs, which may not be necessary.

One marketing expert believes Novartis is making a mistake.

“Scaring consumers is precisely the goal of this and many other disease awareness ads,” said John Mack, who publishes Pharma Marketing News. “Novartis should pull the ad because it is getting some negative feedback from prominent physicians.

“This is not the time to give the AMA more ammunition to use in its campaign to ban all prescription drug DTC advertising. With all the so-called talented ad agencies out there, I’m sure they can come up with a more creative, less scary, and just-as-effective replacement ad.”

Pharma Guy's insight:

Not everyone agreed, though, that the campaign is off the mark. “I think this (ad) is very well done,” said Richard Meyer, a pharmaceutical marketing consultant who writes The World of DTC Marketing blog. “It is helping patients become more empowered by learning about heart failure.  I can’t see any patients running to the doctor to say ‘I have heart failure.’ Rather, it provides information something that most doctors don’t do.”

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Halloween Already? Big Pharma Marketers Try Terror Tactics to Scare Up Sales

Halloween Already? Big Pharma Marketers Try Terror Tactics to Scare Up Sales | Pharmaguy's Insights Into Drug Industry News |

Grandma as a menacing wolf. Parents whose carelessness leads to cancer in their kids. A teenager hospitalized after sharing a seemingly innocent kiss. Halloween may still be over a month away, but Big Pharma is already out to scare consumers.

In recent months, several fear-instilling, often ominous commercials for medical devices, products and vaccines from drugmakers including Pfizer, GlaxoSmithKline and Mylan are airing in fairly heavy rotation. In GSK's spot for whooping cough vaccine Boostrix, a sick grandmother is portrayed as a wolf holding a human infant. In Pfizer's ad for Trumenba, a meningitis B vaccine, scenes in reverse order show how a boy celebrating at a birthday party ended up prone and pale in a hospital bed after his mom mistakenly thought he just had the flu.

"If you increase an individual's feeling that they're susceptible to a threat, and increase the perceived severity of that threat, people are more likely to take action," said Adrienne Faerber, a lecturer at the Dartmouth Institute. "What are these advertisements but trying to get people to take action on things they probably aren't thinking about."

Then there's Mylan's EpiPen. In an unsettling commercial for the auto-injector, a young partygoer suffers an extreme anaphylactic reaction, terrifying those around her. Mylan, of course, has come under fire for gouging after pushing up the price of an EpiPen two-pack by more than 550% to $600 since 2007. And that, said John Mack, who runs electronic newsletter Pharma Marketing News, is no coincidence. He said that "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" (read, for example, "Branded as Well As Unbranded Vaccine Ads Are the Scariest!"; 

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