Drugs Can’t Just Treat Your Disease

By October 20, 2008Uncategorized

Seth Godin has an interesting post today about the tendency of consumers, especially American ones, to demand ever-more-impressive performance, features, service and so on from their brands. The same is true in pharma. Efficacy isn't enough. This is partially due to human nature, and partially due to pharma marketing.


As Godin points out, in his usual spare, incisive ways, consumers are getting incredible amounts of value for next to nothing (and sometimes, actually nothing) and they're never, ever satisfied. To quote his post:

  • How long after getting a big promotion does it take for an executive to get antsy?
  • Why does a powerful senator take small bribes and risk his entire career?
  • Why do Amazon customers, with a choice of every book, delivered
    overnight, for free, whine about their customer service going downhill?
  • Why do customers at a truly great 4 star restaurants often feel a little bit of a let down after the last course is served?
  • Why do Facebook users (a free service that they used to love) complain so vehemently about a change in layout?
  • Why do the very same Apple lovers who waited in line for days now scoff at incremental (free) improvements in their iPhone?

"Is that it?"

This state of ennui explains why we'll never run out of remarkable,
why consumers are restless, why successful people keep working and
taking risks. It explains the self-centered, whiny attitude of some
bloggers who can never get enough from the world, and it explains why a
rich country like the US could almost bankrupt itself in search of ever

In pharma, patients are now routinely receiving drugs that are light-years better than anything available a generation ago. Mevacor, the first statin, was only approved by the FDA in 1987. Highly active antiretroviral therapy, which completely changed the outcome for HIV patients, was introduced in 1996. And so on. And with many chronic conditions, such as hypertension, the mere fact that the drug effectively treats the condition makes no difference — adherence rates are still appallingly low.

As marketers, to some degree we have to answer for this, particularly if you're a carpet-bomb-them-with-DTC marketer. The ultimate example of this might be the infamous Robert Jarvik ads for Lipitor, in which Jarvik is shown sculling on a mountain lake — something he did not actually do. Despite all the regulation in the world, a lot of advertising conveys benefits many patients will not experience, in one way or another.

Such is marketing in the real world. If you hire Accenture, you're probably not going to be like Tiger Woods. If you buy a Lexus, you're not necessarily going to swoop up the winding road to the country club there to be met by your trophy wife, who happens to be wearing a sexy dress. This is true in pharma, too — just becuase you take Boniva for your osteoperosis, you're not going to spend time in the gorgeous backyard garden of a REALLY nice house like Sally Field.

This isn't even bad, necessarily. Jarvik's Lipitor commercials got a lot of people to check on their cholesterol with their doctors who presumably otherwise wouldn't have. However, one side effect of good marketing is creating expectations. As pharma marketers, we shouldn't be surprised when those expectations keep increasing, That's what we do, and that's what they do.