Change in the dynamics of marketing


With significant pressure on drug companies to promote their products, particularly new drugs that have been brought to market after expensive research and development, pharmaceutical firms are relying on approaching patients directly through educational programs, direct mailers and the like. Enter, the little piggies in jackets.

They are small fat pigs in jackets, who hate jaundice, but love business travels. Meet the new Pill pushers who are animated characters extolling the virtues of a hepatitis vaccine. Among a host of innovative ideas, pharmaceutical companies are now pushing their unique ideas in their bid to reach the consumers.

The dynamics of pharmaceutical marketing are changing. With new delivery systems defining the rules of the game, the concept of involvement marketing is fast emerging. Not only do pharmaceutical firms have to research and bring to the markets new drugs, they also have to juggle patient assistance programs and patient hospital referral cases, bring about awareness situations in certain therapeutic areas and ensure that drugs are taken regularly.

For most it’s a catch-22 situation. While doctors can prescribe drugs for uses other than those approved by the Food & Drug Administration like aspirin which was a pain reliever though doctors began recommending its use in preventing heart attacks. Pharmaceutical companies themselves have been prevented from hawking their products for such secondary uses.

Most pharmaceutical companies are battling obnoxious tag of surrogate advertising even as they reach out to the consumer. It is the consumer themselves who are demanding a bigger say in their medical treatment, says an official of the Indian Medical Association, Consumers’ demand does not in anyway condone direct marketing by pharmaceutical majors.

Empowered by better access to higher education, information sources like the internet and the greater personal wealth, consumers are demanding prescription drugs. Its use to be that physician expertise was about all that decided how drugs were prescribed, and so drug companies would do what they could to influence a physicians mind. But now better informed and more demanding consumers are asking for specific drugs say an official of the Indian Drug Manufactures Association.

Multinational Pfizer even has an “Adverse Reporting Event systems� in place, which tracks drug safety at the investigational stage and during the marketing and post marketing phase too. Pfizer’s managing director comments it is a system that grants confidence to patients, that their well-being is our responsibility.

People not only want new medicines, they also need them. Most pharmaceutical firms monitor consumer feedback. As a Ranbaxy official pointed out that they have set the bar very high for this assignment. And when someone calls to report that there is a glitch in the system or it needs enhancement, we take it very seriously and take necessary actions on war footing.

It’s a complex situation. Lives are at stake. Complex chemicals behave differently and no one can exactly predict the reaction. For instance, there could be liver failure with an anti-diabetic drug, or heart attack with an anti-smoking cessation drug.

So is the time right to advertise medication directly to the Indian consumer? In the US, you can’t open a news magazine without finding pages of glitzy ads for prescription drugs. Marketing drugs directly to consumers has exploded over the past few years. This may seem logical for a certain culture but for some it is going too far.

Prescription drugs should not be marketed like cars, beer and shampoo because they are special kinds of products that demand special treatment in the market place.

While pharma firms say it is a question of empowering the patients and that the information in medical ads encourages patients to ask doctor about specific drugs, there is a clear downside. Besides needing to stay as informed as their patients about the latest drugs, doctors must untangle whatever misconceptions are created by ads or convince a patient that a newly released drug is not the panacea it is claimed to be.

Though we are used to advertisement for everything from chicken soup to maid servants, it would seem natural to learn about prescription drugs in the same way. But the stakes are higher with prescription drugs, and so should be standards by which they are sold.

Getting access to customers is not an easy task. For now, the easiest way of creating brand awareness and loyalty among physicians is through medical representatives (MRs). Besides visiting them, these MRs are now pitching to doctors over interactive web sites and remote channels specially designed for doctors.