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How Marketing Moves in Mysterious Ways

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Public information campaigns about vaccines seem to be spreading everywhere and a recent Singapore experience revealed that Pharma marketing is delivered in the most enterprising ways.

In October I was happily married in Singapore’s famous Raffles Hotels and while preparing for my big day one of my groomsmen slipped me a card he had collected from inside a city subway train. It was a Sanofi-Pasture advertisement asking for participants to take part in a clinical trial for a Dengue-fever vaccine.

Sanofi Pasture had launched a creative marketing method that reached the Singaporean consumer right across – and literally under – this small island of 5 million people.

Japan’s laws may limit such a direct approach but for many years pharmaceutical company marketing directors have talked about hiring more consumer marketers to strategize and execute therapeutic awareness campaigns and patient advocacy.

Has the time arrived for Japanese Pharma to launch more Direct to Consumer (DTC) marketing strategies?

One executive from a leading US pharmaceutical group explained that DTC marketing strategies in Japan over the past 10 years have been drawing attention and most major pharmaceutical companies have tried to plan and execute their own DTC plans.

GSK’s Paxil, Banyu’s Procepia, Astellas’s Prograf and Eisai’s Aricept are all marketing success stories.

Morunda general manager and ex-Pharmacia marketing director Bruce Robinson describes a successful pharmaceutical awareness campaign launched in 2001.

“The company bought a full-page color newspaper space to display an eye-test chart and instructions on how to self-check for glaucoma, with instructions to see a doctor when the self-check yielded specified results,” he said.

However, at the same time, many other companies have failed to gain enough return from these promotional techniques falling short of high expectations.

Some marketers question the cost and return on investment and believe the tried and true method of sales in Japan is to have sales and marketing representatives “press the flesh” with physicians and target Key Opinion Leaders (KOLs) who strongly influence the industry. These marketers say Japan’s top-down Confucian-styled culture must be respected.

Many of the marketers suggest that patient advocacy as the most effective strategy.

A long-term European expat living in Tokyo suggests promoting special days – Diabetes Day, Hemophilia Day, and Multiple Sclerosis Day – as an effective approach and has generated a lot of awareness.

These days are created and exploited by companies in an effort to make opportunities to communicate directly to patients and the public.

However, not all DTC campaigns ring true with Japan’s marketers, one executive reports.

One company tried a little reverse psychology on its website in its approach to raising therapeutic awareness.

“Please do not press here unless you are a doctor because there is all sorts of useful info for patients,” the notice on its website read.

This approach was simply “awful”, said one marketing executive.

Other companies have taken to television and the Metabolic Syndrome Campaign was very successful. Another example was Chugai, which screened a TV commercial on CNN promoting itself as No. 1 in Oncology.

Other executives agree there is a large gap between pharmaceutical and consumer marketing.

“On the consumer/pharmaceutical marketing point, pharmaceutical marketing still looks down on consumer marketing, and consumer marketers do not like pharmaceutical marketing,” they say.

“It is hard to be good at both because the regulations are so different. Consumer marketers find pharmaceutical marketing too limited (can’t say this, can’t do that, etc.). The latter do not know how to take advantage of the freedom of expression in a non-regulated environment.”

Ideally, DTC should be a win / win situation in which companies are able to sell their products and equally important – patients can get clear and helpful information about how to combat or prevent a specific disease.

With information technology advances constantly breaking new ground consumers and patients are becoming better informed and have access to more useful information.

One director said DTC is just one strategic option pharmaceutical companies can employ when conducting the core business of serving the community.

“Pharmaceutical marketers should continuously seek and create best way to promote their products and to serve the patient,” he said.

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