The following is a guest post by Devin Morrissey. Devin writes in his garage and examines car parts in his office. He aspires to be an eternal student, writing wherever the web takes him.
You’re watching TV and a commercial for the latest wonder drug comes on. It promises to help you think more clearly, focus better, and accomplish more. It seems to solve all the things you’ve been struggling with. You can’t believe your luck! When you go to the doctor’s office to ask about this new pill, he looks confused — the drug isn’t actually designed to do any of that.
Like many industries, prescription drug companies have to market their products. While there are plenty of responsible drug companies out there, others create misleading ads filled with misleading information. When they neglect to comply with regulations, they can end up owing a lot and losing customers at the same time. Some of the biggest pharma marketing mistakes have resulted in fines in the hundreds of thousands. One benefit, though, is that marketing companies can learn big lessons without making the same mistakes themselves.
Prescribing vs. Marketing Drugs
Physicians are legally able to prescribe drugs to treat conditions that the drug is not FDA-approved for. However, violations occur when drug companies promote those drugs for non-FDA reasons. Before a drug can be marketed to treat a specific condition, the FDA must approve it via a clinical trial. Consumers are generally in the dark when it comes to the truth about prescription drugs, and they often turn to marketing promotions for their information.
When drugs are promoted for off-label uses, they can have detrimental effects. In addition to breaking the law, marketing companies can encourage individuals to use drugs that can leave them sicker than before. Some drugs even have a high risk of death when used to treat certain conditions. Even if the drug doesn’t have a direct negative impact, it can spark addiction in the user. Even seemingly harmless drugs, like painkillers after major surgery, can become addictive or increase health risks.
The Major Lawsuit Against GlaxoSmithKline
In 2012, GlaxoSmithKline had to pay $3 billion in civil and criminal charges after promoting three pharma brands in unlawful ways:
- Paxil: Promoted to treat depression in people under 18 years of age, though it was never approved by the FDA for this use. Paxil’s label even says that its use can worsen depression in people under 18.
- Wellbutrin: Promoted for ADHD, sexual dysfunction, substance abuse, and weight loss, even though it was only approved as a treatment for major depressive order.
- Avandia: Promoted without the inclusion of safety data regarding potential heart issues.
Image Source: Wikipedia
Janssen Pharmaceuticals and Johnson & Johnson’s Settlement
In 2013, Janssen Pharmaceuticals and parent company Johnson & Johnson settled for more than $2 billion in both civil and criminal cases after promoting three prescription drug brands in misleading ways:
- Natrecor: Though this drug was approved by the FDA for treating patients for a specific heart condition, it was promoted to treat less severe heart conditions.
- Risperdal: Approved only for schizophrenia, this drug was promoted to prescribers to treat an array of symptoms in dementia patients, including anxiety, confusion and depression.
- Invega: Though the specific promotions are unclear, this drug, which treats schizoaffective disorder and schizophrenia, was promoted for other uses and misled people regarding its effectiveness and safety.
What Marketing Companies Can Learn
Develop Products Carefully and Test Rigorously
Juno Therapeutics developed a way to fight against tumors, but several patients died as a result of the treatment. When it comes to anything that could potentially put your customers at risk, don’t rush. The need to be the first on the market can mean putting out a product that isn’t ready for the public and can have irreversible effects.
B2B Companies Still Have to Think About Consumers
Pharmaceutical marketers focus on doctors a lot of the time, forgetting about the people who are actually going to be using the drugs: patients. Brands that cater to other businesses still have to think about the consumer who will eventually be purchasing or using the product or service. B2B companies may want to aim some of their marketing at the public, which could put them in a better position to sell to B2B companies once they know there’s interest out there.
Tell the Whole Story Without Jargon
As we’ve seen time and time again, pharma marketing fails when it doesn’t tell the whole story or when it adjusts the story to fit their needs. Brands need to be authentic in order to gain trust. While you may be able to sway some customers right now, eventually the truth about your products or services is going to come out — at which point you could lose everything. Even if you’re not putting others at risk with misleading advertising, you’re definitely putting your company and finances at risk, not to mention your reputation.
Marketing is not easy. Brands have to figure out their customer pain points and then deliver solutions. Companies that cut corners may unethically convince customers to pay up, but that doesn’t result in anything positive for the customer or the company. It may take longer and be the more expensive route, but taking the time to create your own strategy and build trust with customers is what really pays off down the line.