Thanks to Tivo, I can easily zip through commercials for my viewing pleasure. I am not a commercial fan.Therefore, imagine my surprise one night when, in a rare moment of viewing commercials, I suddenly heard a voiceover relay something to the effect of, “Are you considering having your hip replaced? Call this number now for more information on a new hip surgery technique.”
Before coming on board with Orthopedic Design & Technology, I spent many years working in the pharmaceutical advertising sector. In spite of my distaste for commercials, I examined direct to consumer (DTC) advertising trends with great interest; in fact, I spent my final semester of graduate school researching this very topic as the basis for my final project to complete my Master’s degree in journalism.
When I left the pharmaceutical arena, I had never considered that orthopedic manufacturers also use DTC ads as a marketing tool. After all, the drug market typically has a much larger patient group than the medical device market. OEMs must have been following the numbers, though, which indicate that 7% of all US consumers have asked for and received an advertised drug. Surely the device market stands to reap some profits from this trend as well.
The device market does face some challenges with DTC promotion. Smaller target audiences and shorter product life cycles (compared with pharma) should be considered when deciding whether the cost of consumer ads is worthwhile. In addition, it’s important to identify, in advance, how you will ensure that patients will be referred to a specialist skilled in using the orthopedic device—and also account for reimbursement issues. While drug makers have a fairly easy approach to track ROI, it’s not as simple for orthopedic manufacturers; thus, try to put a response measurement method in place before launching a DTC campaign.
As a former advertising pro, my best advice would be to start with a small-scale effort that is precisely targeted. Once you have learned a few lessons from this venture, you can adapt your findings to create a more powerful, successful program. In addition, don’t overlook the potential benefit of tactics such as educational components—patient education materials, counseling tools, physician office displays and Web site content are just a few ideas. Whatever strategy you look into, keep in mind that the FDA requires certain elements to accompany certain types of promotions (visit www.fda.gov for more information). Outsourcing the concepting, development and media planning to an ad agency may not be such a bad idea, either.
The FDA doesn’t have specific regulations yet for DTC promotion of restricted devices, but stricter policies could be forthcoming. Last September, a House representative introduced legislation that would require FDA review and approval before a company releases promotions to the public. On its heels, the FDA also held a public hearing in November to find out what consumers think about the current regulations.
Now it’s your turn to let me know what you think. Are you planning to use DTC campaigns in your marketing efforts this year? What are your opinions on this practice in general? Tell me all about it by writing (firstname.lastname@example.org) or calling me (201-825-2552, ext. 348).