Thursday, January 31, 2008

DTC advertising by medical marketers continues to come under fire.

I was reading something the other day from my home state of New Jersey that was quite thought-provoking on the subject of Direct-to-Consumer advertising by medical marketers. The category is huge, and lots of very good people are doing very good work to help the drug companies and medical device manufacturers take their products to market. But the practice is being criticized.

As reported earlier this month in the Star-Ledger (that's the Newark Star-Ledger for those who are Garden State-savvy) Richard J. Scott, an orthopedic surgeon from Red Bank who is also president of the Medical Society of New Jersey, said patients have begun asking for specific brands of artificial hip and knee replacements after seeing advertisements on television, in print and on the Internet. To me, that sounds like a good thing. Well, Dr. Scott doesn't like it. Here's what he had to say -

"The advertisements substitute Madison Avenue for science, and talk to consumers who don't understand that every new device is not necessarily better."

Consumers have grown accustomed to TV, print and online ads promoting cholesterol-lowering drugs, sleeping pills, anti-impotence medications and heartburn remedies. Now there is a trend toward surgically implanted devices such as prosthetic hips and artery stents. According to the rather negatively-slanted story in the Star-Ledger, since the late 1990s, prescription drugmakers have "flooded the airwaves, newspapers, magazines and now the Internet" with ads, spending more than $5 billion annually on direct-to-consumer marketing. Critics like Dr.Scott have complained the ads don't provide adequate warnings and have unnecessarily increased drug usage.

Echoing long-standing complaints about pharmaceutical advertising, some critics like Diana Zuckerman, head of the nonprofit National Research Center for Women and Families, say they find the ads for implanted medical devices even more troubling.

Zuckerman said the medical device ads tend to "have a lot of personal storytelling but very little information about the risks."

But wait, there's more. The medical device industry is under scrutiny by the U.S. Justice Department over how it markets to doctors, and by the Food and Drug Administration about its manufacturing practices. Just last week, the FDA cited Stryker, a leading maker of knee and hip replacements, for manufacturing problems at a plant in Mahwah, N.J.

I've heard this argument before, and I have to say that I know plenty of people who's lives have been improved by direct-to-consumer advertising for medical products of all kinds. I developed a DTC campaign for one of those hip implants over ten years ago, and I have to say the people who turned out to our seminars were truly appreciative of the information being presented. New awareness was being created. Doors were being opened. The average Joes and Jills, many of them elderly people with serious orthopedic conditions, were able to make educated decisions, rather than "deer in the headlights" decisions based on a rushed copnsultation with an impatient surgeon.

Remember when it was considered unthinkable for doctors to advertise? You Gen-Xer's will just have to trust me on that one. It just wasn't considered ethical. Well as the marketplace has changed, healthcare professionals have gotten - and I'll put quotes on this - "creative" - with marketing to drive more patients into their pipeline. I know because I've created a lot of that advertising too. So how then can some physicians presume to criticize the manufacturers for helping to inform consumers about their products?

I think DTC advertising is good for you. Here's why...

DTC advertising helps to make the average Joe or Jill aware that a problem they may in fact be experiencing is a recognized medical consdition. They in turn become more comfortable discussing it with their doctor and are no longer reluctant - or in my case just plain too stubborn - to make an appointment.

And, no they can't just march down to the corner pharmacy and get it over the counter.

As for the "not enough warnings" argument - there are plenty of warnings, perhpas too many, as the drug companies try to keep up with the FCC and cover their backsides. The doctors know the risks, the contraindications, the drug interactions - or at least they should.

No, I still think DTC advertising is a good thing, and it's here to stay.

Fox Super Bowl advertising revenue to reach $260 million

This reported yesterday by MediaWeek -
Fox is expected to take in a total of $225 million in advertising revenue on Super Bowl Sunday, according to sources familiar with the situation. Sources explained that this will include the network's four-hour, pre-game show; Super Bowl game telecast; and hour-long episode of its hit drama, House, which leads out of the game. In addition, the Fox owned-and-operated TV stations are expected to take in about $35 million in ad revenue locally for the similar schedule of programming, bringing the total take to $260 million.

The Super Bowl telecast itself, which contains 63 ad units, is expected to bring in about $170 million, with the average spot selling for $2.7 million. Some of the multispot advertisers in the game paid less per unit; however, about five advertisers who bought individual units with ad time close to sellout, paid as much as $3 million per unit.

Pepsi wants to make the biggest Super Bowl splash

PepsiCo Inc. plans to run spots for no fewer than five of its brands this Sunday, including an ad featuring 60 seconds of silence.

The spot, which will actually run during the Fox network's pregame show on Feb. 3, was conceived by a PepsiCo employee, starring him and three others, including two who are deaf.

Considering how many seriously bad Super Bowl commercials we've seen over the past few years, this one might have a chance to be one of the real bright spots. One of the spots that really breaks some new ground.

And here's another interesting Super Bowl advertising development - PepsiCo said today that it would air Super Bowl ads for five different brands: Gatorade G2, Amp Energy, SoBe Life Water, Diet Pepsi Max and Pepsi. The experts say this is a sign of just how much the beverage category has changed. In past years, the majority of this super-expensive ad time was typically devoted to "core" brands like Pepsi and Diet Pepsi. However, as consumer tastes continue to shift, promoting non-core energy drinks and non-carbonated beverages has become essential.

With the average price tag per spot of $2.7 million, I certainly think Pepsi is making a commitment here, and the stratgty, to me, is a sound one. In the past, deviation from the core brands would have been a mistake, but in today's marketplace, diversification is the way to go, and the non-core brands need that level of support.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

The Shat Rules!

The Los Angeles Times ran a story recently about William Shatner that was very interesting, pointing out that celebrities, however faded their popularity, can do wonders for a brand. Shatner is celebrating the tenth year of his association with It is his longest-running role, and you can't help thinking he's really having fun with it.

Interesting fact - Shatner beat Bill Cosby for the Priceline gig back in 1997. Shatner got the nod because he was "futuristic" in his persona, said Chief Marketing Officer Brett Keller, and because "anyone holding a credit card aged 18 to 95 had heard of William Shatner and knew who he was." The first spots were hits, parodied on Saturday Night Live. They "propelled Priceline from a second- or third-tier brand to a top-tier brand with extremely high brand awareness," Keller said, adding that company surveys found that people were as familiar with Priceline as with online shopping giant EBay, and more than 90% of people asked had heard of Priceline.

Auto insurer Geico is one company that has taken the concept to town with the likes of Little Richard, Burt Bacharach and James Lipton.

Shatner is a real piece of work. My hat's off to him. He's proven that you can be a has-been and still come back. I guess the point is that Shatner was a has-been only in terms of mainstream popularity. He's always had a big following among the baby boomers who remember him from Twilight Zone - "There's a man -- on the wing!" -- and Star Trek. Oh, and let's not forget TJ Hooker!

My Art Director, Scott Spear, takes great pleasure in playing the MP3 of Shatner's spoken-word performance of Elton John's "Rocket Man" from a 1981 episode of the John Davidson Show. It's classic Shatner, and even after some 1,400 in-office plays, never fails to get a laugh. It's a great tension-breaker.

Comments posted on the YouTube page of Shatner's "Bust a Move" spot indicate the commercials might also have helped his reputation with fans. "Shatner is GOD," said one. Two others were compelled to write, individually: "The Shat rules!"

Yes, The Shat rules, and thanks to, YouTube, Star Trek reruns and new episodes of Boston Legal, I'm sure he'll live long and prosper.

Looking back - looking ahead

Okay, that's about the best I could think of for a "Happy New Year" title for this post. It's been a very hectic few weeks and I'm getting back to writing after a very eventful December. Here's a sampling -

My son is running again for student government VP at the University of Central Florida - Go Knights! We've been making campaign signs every weekend, including Christmas day and New Year's day, and I've just returned from Orlando, where we delivered about 90 of them in two minivans.

Our cat Shredder passed away the week before Christmas, which was very sad. She was a great pet and will be remembered for behaving more like a dog than a cat. She was one of three felines who have been very much in charge of things around the Smith residence for years.

End of year business - happily, it was a very busy month, racing the calendar to deliver work before the end of the year. Did it make up for all the crappy months we had this year? I'm not telling.

End of year bookkeeping - did we make any money in 2007? Hell if I know.

Dusenberry's passing the end of an era?

I had planned to acknowledge the passing of Phil Dusenberry somehow, but wasn't quite sure how. That is until I saw Steve Hayden's story in Ad Age. Steve Hayden is vice chairman of Ogilvy & Mather Worldwide and worked with Mr. Dusenberry at BBDO from 1985 to 1994 before joining Ogilvy.

Hayden says Dusenberry's passing marked the end of the golden age of TV advertising, and called Dusenberry "the sun king" of that golden age. Others would say TV's Golden Age expired way before Dusenberry rose to power at BBDO and his big brand work wasn't really all that boundary-crossing. I have to admit he did some great work. And don't forget, he was responsbile for Michael Jackson's hair being set ablaze in that Pepsi spot!

His commitment to his clients at BBDO, including GE, Apple, FedEx and Pepsi, made him a modern-day Leo Burnett. I'm sure that, like Burnett, he was always working, concepting, creating, tinkering and all that on behalf of his clients and to the detriment of his personal life. Back in the eighties, he was one of the guys who made commercials more entertaining than the shows they sponsored, and transformed brands into pop icons with global reach. Yes, I agree with Hayden that some of the commercials were better than the shows on the tube back in the day. And if Phil Dusenberry was the guy behind that adverising, then yes, he was damn good.

Hayden says Dusenberry defined a good day as a day when the work was good. And vice versa. When I read that, I thought yeah, this was my kind of guy. He believed, as I do, that at the end of the day what matters is how the work holds up. So take a minute to think about the great work produced under the direction of Mr. Dusenberry, one of advertising's modern-day legends.