Market access teams perform the critical task of articulating a drug’s value proposition to key payer decision-makers.  Historically, that has meant MSLs, payer marketers, HEOR professionals, and account managers working collectively to articulate the value proposition of the drug relative to the pre-existing standard of care and the drug’s price tag. These conversations happen in a business-like manner and there is little opportunity to go beyond the Outcome-P&L conversation. For marketers, this presents a unique challenge. The holy grail of marketing is to build an emotional connection between the brand and the consumer but how to accomplish this when the customer (payers) prefers a transactional financial relationship.

As payers began to shift a greater percentage of drug cost to patients, patients took on payer-like characteristics and co-pay support programs presented the first opportunities to communicate pharma’s efforts in making life-saving medicines accessible to the patients who need them. Direct-to-Consumer (DTC) advertisements have long been a vital form of building brand awareness in the minds of consumers. With increasing investments in co-pay programs, DTC ads began to include specific messaging about the manufacturer’s co-pay initiatives although their effectiveness is debatable.  

Research shows that messages are most effective when placed at either the very start or the very end of a video. In a typical DTC ad, the core brand's  messages take overwhelming precedence over access messages. This is understandable given the need to build disease awareness, articulate brand value, and include fair balance. As a result, co-pay messages get relegated as a minor subtext towards the end of the video with no associated call to action. The net effectiveness is minimal from the perspective of the drug’s value proposition relative to price, given the challenges facing the industry.

Not a week goes by without a major newspaper or a patient advocacy organization or a politician railing about the greed of the pharmaceutical industry. In fact, when you type pharma pricing on the Google search engine, the first search suggestion is pharma price gouging. PhRMA white papers and congressional testimonies will not be enough to defend the industry against the deluge of negative PR. In the absence of proactive value messaging, pharma will continue to play defense.

The reactive approach to value messaging is beginning to have a tangible impact, with a number of states pursuing legislation and ballot initiatives to restrict pharma pricing. Pharma’s response has generally focused on explaining that net prices paid by insurers and the patients are significantly lower than the list prices. Even this narrative is being challenged; check out Bloomberg’s recent article decoding pharma’s drug pricing practices. So what’s to be done?

Pharma has clearly begun to realize the need to own the value narrative, and Pfizer’s recent campaign is a good start. But it’s just that, a start. We suspect that in the future, value messaging will play a larger role within DTC campaigns, and the evolution will likely happen along the following lines:

  • PhRMA and individual companies will air general industry-wide campaigns about cost of R&D and the value of drugs to society
  • Individual companies will develop an access-focused brand presence covering their entire portfolio
  • High-cost list price drugs will tailor and revamp their DTC campaigns to include more prominent value messaging

From the beginning of DTC prescription drug ads in the late 90s to the emergence of online advertising and social media in the last decade, every decade has brought dramatic changes to how drugs are promoted and marketed. With drug pricing becoming a national issue demanding rational and objective conversation, pharma needs to take a more active role in the ongoing debate about the value of drugs to society and the inherent trade-offs. The next decade promises to once again transform how drugs will be marketed; value messages won't be a sub-text at the bottom of the DTC ad. They will be front and center.