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Pharmaceutical Ad Spending 2014: Novartis Finds Video, Search, Mobile Apps Effective

Cheryl Policastro
Director, Shopper Marketing and Insights
Novartis Consumer Health

Amid the squeeze on drug companies due to patent expirations on blockbuster drugs, Novartis and GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) announced in April an asset-swapping/joint venture deal, which includes Novartis picking up GSK’s cancer drugs and the two companies forming a joint venture on their respective nonprescription drug consumer units. The venture, GSK Consumer Healthcare, will combine the businesses of Novartis brands including Excedrin and Prevacid with GSK brands including Nicorette, TUMS and Aquafresh. Cheryl Policastro, director of shopper marketing and insights at Novartis Consumer Health, spoke with eMarketer’s Christine Bittar about selling over-the-counter medications and some of the differences between marketing prescription and nonprescription drugs.

eMarketer: As an executive on the Novartis over-the-counter business, can you talk about some of the distinctions in marketing OTC drugs vs. prescription medications?

Cheryl Policastro: In terms of digital advertising, targeting is very attractive. Some of what we do with OTC could be linking digital efforts through shopper cart data, targeting specific demographics or even geotargeting.

We do have to be careful, however. … We want to respect consumers’ privacy [without seeming to overtly pitch product]. There are also some restrictions and the HIPAA [Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act] laws, so ultimately we want to make sure we’re serving helpful information.

eMarketer: Wouldn’t that sensitivity to privacy be more of a concern when marketing prescription drugs rather than what’s available to everyone in drug stores?

Policastro: Certainly being on OTC we have the advantage of less regulation, [although the downside is that we tend to have smaller budgets]. Some of the Rx brands have done a phenomenal job leveraging digital to support patients—for example, with apps to help drive compliance. This is especially true for drugs that are delivered by injection regularly, which means the patient has to rotate injection sites.

“Some of the Rx brands have done a phenomenal job leveraging digital to support patients—for example, with apps to help drive compliance.”

eMarketer: In the case of your brands, such as Excedrin or Triaminic, does direct-response marketing make sense?

Policastro: Direct response makes a lot of sense. With digital, you can have a clear call to action, and a lot of the activity is about engaging and driving interaction and inviting consumers to opt in.

There’s also a strong need for education in the OTC space, and digital provides a tremendous opportunity for deep communication—in a way that’s desirable to consumers. It’s a fantastic tool, but in the past it was a bit of a challenge for us.

eMarketer: Have you been using video to educate consumers?

Policastro: Video has probably been the most useful for us with our fiber supplement brand Benefiber. It dissolves in food and beverages, and showing that with video is a great way for people to understand how the brand works.

“We try to ensure that we don’t just focus on treating the problem, but also providing education about alternatives.”

With brands that require less education [from a visual perspective], any video would lean more toward traditional branding, especially because video can reinforce brand image or personality.

eMarketer: I know you—and most other marketers—use a combination of media platforms, but if you had to limit your choice to one digital outlet, which would you say is the most effective in the drug segment?

Policastro: It does depend on the brand, but search is key, and it can deliver a good ROI [return on investment], so it’s definitely a critical element. I think for some brands, the social piece can also be critical in terms of driving loyalty and engagement. We know banner is leveling off with some of those spends shifting to other platforms, but that, too, will always be important.

eMarketer: There seems to be an overall shift in focus from medicating illness to health and wellness. Has Novartis Consumer done that as well, and if so, does it even apply to OTC medications?

Policastro: We try to ensure that we don’t just focus on treating the problem, but also providing education about alternatives. For instance, headaches can be caused by dehydration, so informing people of that is an important part of what we do.

Ultimately, most of our brands at the moment are focused on treating problems, and so we’ll always have to focus most of our energy and attention on describing how we can take care of a problem. There will always be a need for products that will solve a problem or treat a problem, [although OTC doesn’t necessarily cure], and that’s a big difference from Rx.

Of course we would talk about prevention though, and I think most of the pharmaceutical companies are geared toward helping people take care of themselves one way or another. Ultimately, the hope is that people won’t be suffering from a condition.



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