There’s been a fair amount of controversy throughout the pharma blogosphere in the last few days about the revelation that Dr. Robert Jarvik, star of Pfizer’s Lipitor ads, is not actually a licensed, practicing physician. Blogs weighing in on this issue have included Pharma Blogosphere and John Mack’s Pharma Marketing Blog. At the time the Jarvik ads first appeared, they were a big deal because Jarvik was allegedly the first "real" doctor to be used in a pharma ad.
To us, this incident points up another major difference between relationship marketing and conventional DTC advertising, whether it’s for pharma or, for that matter, anything.
Using Jarvik is, basically, using a celebrity. This tactic, which is as old as adverting itself, can be very effective, but also comes with serious risks. A celebrity is a person, and people have the habit of doing very human things. This was beautifully illustrated in a terrific book on advertising with the somewhat unpolished title Hey, Whipple, Squeeze This!, by Luke Sullivan.
Obviously, Jarvik’s issues, or nonissues, are trivial, if they even exist. But they point out yet another benefit RM has over conventional DTC. RM does not rely on borrowed interest, or celebrities. It’s a direct, patient-centric communication between the pharma company and the customer. There is never the risk that something may change in the celebrity’s image that will negatively affect your brand.
This happens more often than you’d think outside the pharma world. Think of Michael Jackson’s brief, unhappy, very expensive tenure representing Pepsi. Or O.J. Simpson. As the reach, sophistication and budget of DTC in pharma expands, this kind of thing will happen more and more often.
A lot of DTC is about the product, or the pharma company. RM is about the patient. Which makes all the difference, and often, prevents a lot of risk.