Tom Dougherty, CEO – Stealing Share
11 April 2018
Pharmaceutical advertising reaches new absurdity
Watching TV last night, I came across this commercial for Cosentyx, a drug to treat psoriasis from the drug company Novartis. The commercial seems innocent enough. It features a celebrity and the common man, something of a trend in big pharmaceutical advertising lately.
“What do these pharmaceutical advertising spots cost per potential patient?”
But something struck me odd about this ad.
Like most, I barely pay attention to pharmaceutical advertising. As a rule, I disdain them because they spend three-quarters of the ad warning you that it could kill you, maim you or ensure your children are born with hairy hobbit feet. My favorite warning states, “People who are allergic to (insert drug name here) shouldn’t take it.” That statement reaches a level of absurdity that rivals Plan 9 From Outer Space.
As I was watching this one, I wondered how many people I know that suffer from psoriasis. The answer? None.
So, like many of us confronted by a question, I Googled it. According to the International Federation of Psoriasis Associations (IFPA), only about 3% of the world’s population has some form of psoriasis. In the US, there are about 7.5 million people affected with it. The plaque variety makes up about 80% of these cases, so roughly 6 million people in the US suffer from the kind of psoriasis Cosentyx treats. (And, no, Cosentyx does not cure psoriasis. It only treats the symptoms.)
These pharmaceutical advertising campaigns are for how many?
So then I got thinking about it. Isn’t there more pharmaceutical advertising for psoriasis? Yes, at least three more. Humira, Tremfya and Otezla. I assume there are some other brands and generics available as well.
Let’s do the math. Just take the above-mentioned four pharmaceutical marketing campaigns into account and divide the roughly 6 million people with psoriasis in the US between the four drugs. That comes to 1.5 million people per drug. (Assuming the unlikely scenario the pharmaceuticals each sport 25% market share and all 6 million people suffering from psoriasis even see the ads.) What do these pharmaceutical advertising spots cost per potential patient?
The ads demonstrate high production values and run on national networks. I am sure each features its own print and online components as well. Think of the cost marketing to a relatively small number of people. What gives?
What are these ads trying to do? Consumers can’t go to CVS and buy any of these off the shelf. Sure, they can ask their doctor. But given the size of the market, aren’t most people who have psoriasis already treating it in some way? So, are the ads for medical professionals? I honestly don’t know.
These ads cost a lot of money. R&D costs a lot of money. If there are four brand name drugs that all treat the same condition and there are only 6 million or so people who might possibly use the drug, where’s the money coming from?
That’s a rhetorical question. And we wonder why health care costs continue to rise.
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