Health Advertising: A Team Effort
Nutraceutical companies should strongly consider participating in the health advertising arena.
ByDr. Gina Nick
As a result of the COX-2 recall several months ago, “Big Pharma” is re-evaluating its direct-to-consumer (DTC) advertising policies and strongly considering a shift in emphasis toward direct-to-patient (DTP) promotions. Companies have noticed a drop in return on investment, particularly from TV advertising, due in part to its high cost but also to a change in public reactions. FDA has also issued directives calling for changes, which counteract America’s “pill culture” and emphasize a “more accurate portrayal of the effectiveness and safety of the drug product.”
Another shift is taking place with regard to the specificity of target populations. There are not many products that have broad appeal, which makes broadcast advertising ineffective from a cost standpoint. Among the available media, other avenues promise lower cost and a higher percentage of interested recipients. Companies are also looking at advertising tactics that elicit a product response from interested consumers (i.e., they respond to advertising by asking for more information), so that mailing lists can be established for future targeted promotions.
These days pharmaceutical companies are more interested in consumer retention and compliance. It seems they are just starting to realize that patients, once acquired, do not always continue to use a particular product. This fact has been recognized by physicians from the dawn of time as a major problem in effective treatment, but has been overlooked by the healthcare advertising industry until just recently.
Fundamental to all these concerns are several basic facts about pharmaceuticals: 1) they are inherently risky and Americans are too blasé about the dangers; 2) Pharmaceuticals have narrow targets—single or a very few disease entities per product. In contrast, natural food nutrients are inherently safe and are relevant to multiple conditions, including overall health maintenance.
The broad stroke approach to advertising that is producing diminishing returns for Big Pharma is ideally suited to nutraceuticals. Likewise, the new emphasis from the FDA on “truth in advertising” and greater educational content opens a significant opportunity for promoting complementary and alternative medicine (CAM). CAM has not entered this arena largely because advertising to date has been initiated by individual companies with a specific product to promote. This can change if the CAM industry pools its resources. A sufficient “war chest” from cooperative financing can enable CAM to take advantage of this opportunity, especially with the emphasis on integrated approaches to improving diet and lifestyle.
Coincident with and supportive of this approach is a growing public awareness of the poor quality of the American diet. The wide availability of foods with minimal nutritional value has finally become a cause celèbre for mainstream medicine, the media, public schools and even class action lawyers. Fortunately, wholesome and complete nutrition is still plentiful and readily available in local supermarkets. Simply shopping along the walls and avoiding the aisles will go a long way toward improving the health and nutrition status of individuals.
Compounding the problem in many instances is the depletion or inhibition of nutrients by pharmaceuticals. Statins, for instance, decrease plasma CoQ10 (ubiquinone) levels in the body, while oral contraceptives decrease blood levels of vitamins B2, B12 and C, as well as folic acid.
What more attractive entrance upon the national advertising stage for CAM than to campaign for good nutrition. In the process, no one would object to careful, well-documented recommendations for nutritional supplements that complement residual unhealthy eating habits and replenish what processing has removed from nature’s bounty. The obstacle is, of course, direct return on investment. That is where trade organizations of every color appear. Teachers, retired persons, physicians, nurses, dairymen, cattle ranchers, citrus growers, home builders, wood product producers, and even the tobacco industry pool resources through trade organizations to promote their products and services. CAM would be well advised to develop a comprehensive advertising plan and accumulate the means to carry it out, either through one of the trade organizations or by a collaborative effort among producers and marketers of nutraceuticals that cater to healthcare professionals.
As has been stated before in this series, a convergence of mainstream and complementary and alternative medicine is at hand. Most of the major quick fixes and magic bullets for treating acute conditions have been discovered, leaving behind the chronic diseases and deteriorations that require long-term, multiple ingredient dietary and lifestyle changes initiated early and maintained over decades. This is what CAM has championed all along. It is now time to join mainstream medicine’s efforts to deal with chronic conditions and appropriate the respect and patronage due to objective, scientific and well reasoned approaches to health maintenance that have heretofore been the exclusive province of allopathic medicine.
How to Proceed
A list of possible advertising vehicles includes: TV and radio broadcasts, print, outdoor displays, email, brand websites, other online resources, customer relations management (CRM), pharmacies, doctors’ offices and word of mouth. These promotions can come in several forms. Some vehicles, such as billboards, are more directed toward product recognition, while others can be narrowly targeted to patients with a single disease entity, such as the office of an allergist. The emphasis appears to be shifting somewhat (with the encouragement of the FDA and public opinion) from blanket product promotion and comparisons to informational, patient identification and help-seeking spots that develop a specific interest list for further directed promotions. For CAM’s purposes, informational content is far and away the most promising path to pursue. Not only do CAM’s products have a broad market, but solid data from an objective scientific viewpoint will also greatly improve the industry’s image, especially if it reveals new information and coordinates with mainstream research.
Promotional subject matter should include not only the overall benefits of good nutrition and exercise and dietary recommendations for general health and common disease conditions, but also discussions of general and specific health issues, the risks of pharmaceuticals, disease prevention strategies, the importance of compliance with long-term treatment regimens, including pharmaceuticals, and even political healthcare issues related to financing, availability and quality.
Further avenues worth pursuing are help-seeking promotions backed by competent, informed and personable response teams equipped with the latest research findings. These can be strategically placed, for example, in arthritis or diabetes publications, or in the offices of physician specialists, such as urologists. Not only does this enhance the image of CAM, it can also develop word-of-mouth recommendations (the best advertising there is) and mailing lists for future, more directed efforts.
At the same time, taking a cue from Big Pharma, DTP initiatives can be launched that target individual conditions, emphasizing those that most clearly benefit from nutritional supplementation. Hormone balancing in aging populations using natural products comes to mind, but there are many others.
This is the perfect time for CAM to launch a concerted nationwide advertising effort on several fronts, emphasizing the broad application and multiple benefits that can be gained from adopting a healthier lifestyle through better eating, exercise and nutritional supplementation. Mainstream medicine will gladly cooperate so long as the production is scientific and objective.NW