Will The Pharma Do-Good Police Ruin Marketing?

Marketing Advisory

The Marketing Doctor asks:

Will The Pharma Do-Good Police Ruin Marketing?

Folks, I fumed when I first heard about the pharmaceutical industry’s move to self-regulate some aspects of the their marketing.  Why?  Because the aspects I’m talking about are the mainstays of brand marketing (i.e., inexpensive logo, giveaways, etc.).  

I asked myself:  Was this another example of the mommy police interfering with consumers’ ability to make their own, informed decisions?

The answer is yes and no.

First, pharmaceutical marketing practices probably are in need of some serious reform.  Fact is, what people have been calling marketing in this industry is not marketing at all, but clandestine sales practices like dinners and gifts that smack of corruption and shady ethics. 

The best advertising (or as we say today — the promotional message) is the truth well told; and when it comes to the complex world of pharmaceuticals and medicine, it’s hard to argue that a canned talk given to doctors at an extravagant and boozy dinner is the best way to tell the truth well.  But it takes two to tango, and doctors and their own self-regulatory groups have got to be held responsible for allowing these kinds of practices to continue.

Seminars and steak dinners probably interfere with an objective assessment of whether or not the drug is effective.  These practices are the ones that should be banned by big pharma and doctors alike.  (See a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel article here that exposes some of these practices.)

And yes, I believe that capitalism needs some regulations because greed does get in the way.  I believe in humanistic capitalism, because without it, we’re back to the days of the 19th century robber barron, and I for one don’t want to live there.

Now, the current self-regulation that I fumed about might be a ploy by big pharma to keep these lucrative and undercover practices going while discontinuing the visible ones like logoized pens and clock giveaways for a savings of a billion dollars (see an article that suggests that here).  Even so, banning promotional items is a branding mistake, and an example of how the mommy police so often get it wrong when they try to “protect” the consumer from “evil” marketing. 

For those of you asking at this point: ‘Isn’t this big pharma playing the mommy police?’  My answer is ‘sure, but they’re employing this technique because attacking marketing is the default when addressing any corporate problem area.’ 

In other words, real marketing —i.e., meeting the needs of a Target Market— goes out the window in favor of cosmetic fixes driven by a wrong-headed understanding of what marketing is.

After all, there is nothing wrong with giveaways that remind people about a brand, especially when all the information about the product is out there.  (A patient needs to be a partner in treatment with his or her doctor.)  And by the way, reminding people about a brand can actually lead the consumer to gather more information, especially in these Internet research days.  I learned this from personal experience when reminded of the name of a medication I was taking by one of these giveaways (a clock) that I saw in my doctor’s office.  I went home with my new brand awareness, did a little research and as a result worked with my doctor to switch out of that medication (and the entire class of medications) and into a better treatment option. (I know I'm a marketer, but in this case I really was being a patient and consumer.)

Bottom line: the consumer and the doctor need more information, not less.  This kind of regulation achieves the exact opposite result.  Real marketing is open and above board.  This move is just getting rid of the evidence of questionable practices and a turning away from the kind of marketing that will serve everyone’s needs best.

And remember, it’s always easier when you keep marketing and branding in mind.


If real advertising is the truth well told, then it is in the consumer’s interest to hear that truth told as often and as fully as possible.


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  • 1/13/2009 9:14 AM Promotional Gifts wrote:
    We can't blame the pharmaceutical companies. This s their way of promoting their product. What is to blame are the doctors. They should be responsible on what to prescribe.
    Reply to this
    1. 1/31/2009 9:40 AM Jimmy Choo Shoes wrote:
      I agree. And also to the people who abuse them.
      Reply to this
    2. 2/20/2009 8:59 AM Baltimore Courier Service wrote:
      I perfectly agree to you. Doctors should act on their responsibly.
      Reply to this
  • 1/21/2009 8:31 AM Vincent Torres wrote:
    I was just thinking about Marketing Advisory and you've really helped out. Thanks!
    Reply to this
  • 3/19/2009 6:52 AM Local Internet Marketing wrote:
    Doctors Association or the Department of Food and Drugs should give doctors and consumers information about what is good and bad because pharmaceutical companies are liars.
    Reply to this
  • 3/22/2009 10:59 PM Teach English in China wrote:
    Doctors should know what drugs are not beneficial to the patients.
    Reply to this
  • 4/22/2009 5:56 AM American casinos online wrote:
    I admit, I have not been on this webpage in a long time... however it was another joy to see It is such an important topic and ignored by so many, even professionals.,
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  • 5/12/2009 9:21 PM john lipson wrote:
    doctors are very ware which meds are better for their patients and which work better quicker with less side affects. the assumption is if a doctor goes to a dinner he's doing something wrong which isn't true. a drug company may take a doctor out in an attempt to gain market share over a competitor. Both brand drugs priced the same to patients but a relationship may gain mores prescriptions but overall no change to the patient.
    In addition how many generic drug smaples has the doctor ever given to you?
    Doctors give away hundreds of millions of dollars of samples yearly many times to patients with little or no resources to obtain them themselves.
    Reply to this
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  • 5/18/2009 7:47 AM Hank wrote:
    Thanks for interesting article. I will take into consideration.
    Reply to this
  • 5/20/2009 1:24 PM Bill wrote:
    Doctors should know what drugs are not beneficial to the patients.
    Reply to this
  • 6/8/2009 3:13 AM SEO wrote:
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  • 7/4/2009 10:48 AM Nostalgia Drag Racing Videos wrote:
    Not just pharmaceutical marketing practices - all of pharma needs some regulation. They are out of control.
    Reply to this
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    Excellent read, I just passed this onto a colleague who was doing a little research on that. And he actually bought me lunch because I found it for him smile So let me rephrase that.
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  • 3/19/2010 1:36 AM seo wrote:
    Reader thoughtful post - thanks for the inside info on the way information gets to physicians. Never thought about that side of things! Another issue occurred to me as I read. . . you are assuming that the average consumer wants more information. Can they be troubled? They should be of course, but will they? Guess responsibility goes every which way. Great food for thought - thanks again.
    Reply to this
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    It's always nice when you can not only be informed, but also entertained!
    Reply to this
  • 11/26/2010 6:31 AM Adamfreeman wrote:
    Obviously, this is the acceptable article. Before marketing Pharma products, all the medicines should be completely guaranteed by doctors.
    Reply to this
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