RAZOR BRANDING BLOG: Are You Influenced by Promo Items?

Are You Influenced by Promo Items?

As of January 1, 2009, big pharma is making big changes to the way they market.  

Gone are the days when 'drug reps' go door to door visiting doctors' offices and handing out promo items.  Just a few of these items in the past have included; 

Coffee cups, sticky notes, pens, magnets, prescription pads, notepads, stickers, band aids, soap dispensers, tongue depressors, calendars, mouse pads, picture frames, key chains, koozies, t-shirts, bags, buttons, cell phone covers, computer bags, laser pointers, exam table paper, candy, mugs, tape measurer, posters, anatomical examples, magazines, books, articles and more
According to the New York Times, Allergan, Merck, and Sepracor are the first companies to voluntarily change their practices and joined the pledge to ban the distribution of promotional items.

The school of thought is that doctors are unduly influenced by seeing this barrage of logos at every turn throughout their day.   Most doctors say that they are in no way influenced by these items.  

But that doesn't take into account the other forms, and much larger percentage, of marketing that the drug companies utilize.  

Consider the 'educational dinners'.  These fall into two categories, the social/semi-work dinners hosted by the drug companies that usually include spouses at a very high end restaurant and provide an opportunity for networking while the rep gives a speech to promote their latest products and its many vast benefits.

But, there are some dinners that are truly educational.  These dinners are usually for doctors only, no spouses, provide information that is presented in an unbiased manner and most importantly qualifies for CME credits.  These dinners may be 'sponsored' or attended by a representative from a pharmaceutical company but the information is presented by another doctor in an educational and unbiased way.

For an industry that has to have such high standards with regards to the medicine they dispense, I would like to think that my doctor is smart enough to not be swayed by a pen and coffee mug.  

What do you think?  Do promo items give one drug an advantage over another?  If one rep is nicer than another, will that influence, even subconciously, a doctor's decision on what to prescribe?


Shaum said...

This is a great blog and it raises some interesting questions. I am, by no means, anything close to a doctor; however, when it comes to such important things as medicine and pharmacutical items, I would like to think that the product should stand on its own, backed up by scientific research, and not by a key chain or a notepad. Doctors, hopefully, will reject or accept the use of such products not by promotional items, but by the merit of the product.

I would rather a representative who is not nice, but with a strong product and no promotional items come approach me, rather than a nice representative with a horrible product and a lot of refrigerator magnets and paperweights. Additionally, from what I understand, there are other incentives which come into the equation as well, regarding sales and precriptions and so on.

All that being said, do promotional items and a smile have an advantage? Generally, I would say I think so. We see how approachable people have their advantages every day, not only in medicine, but in shops, schools, bars, and entertainment (Sean Penn is a great actor, but I would rather hang out with Will Smith). I think it does make an impression, whether knowingly or unknowingly--I guess it is the magnitude of this impression that matters?

Really enjoy reading these blogs, and I look forward to reading more of them!

Jaci Russo said...

Thanks so much for your comments. I really appreciate the feedback. I have to agree with you on Will Smith v Sean Penn - he would get my vote every day.

Marybeth said...

As a physician's daughter I grew up in a house full of those "pharma- freebies." My childhood classrooms often benefitted from the pencils and rulers dropped off by reps. In fact my mother told me they never even bought formula or diapers because, as a pediatrician my father was given these items as well. Everything from sunscreen to vitamins was a “pharma-freebie” for our family I still have a few of these tidbits from my childhood but couldn’t tell you what drug they advertised.

Later as an adult, a patient, and consumer, I find the idea that a physician never had to purchase these sometimes pricey items a bit disturbing. I knew how much these things cost and know many families struggle to afford them. I realized I’d rather see companies dump their freebie funding into Patient Assistance Programs and physician education. I assure you my father never decided what to prescribe based on a box of tissues or a coffee mug and would like to think most physicians look at how the drug may help or possibly harm their patients when prescribing instead of on a knick-knack or a steak dinner hosted by the rep.

While working for a national non-profit health related organization, we held a yearly educational symposium for patients and their families. We basically rewrote non-profit history when we began to ask our exhibitors to scale back on their exhibits and simply have a booth with educational materials, then asked them to budget at most $1.00 per attendee for their giveaways. Instead we asked them to take what they originally budgeted and put it into a family fun night event at the symposium that would not only give great memories to the children and adults afflicted with the disease, but be educational as well. Of course they were all shocked at first but after the first year our 4 biggest contributors raised the bar for the others by more than doubling their family night contributions. After that their creativity was amazing and the atmosphere became very competitive amongst the companies. That one family-fun night event 12 years ago grew from one evening to regional events held quarterly around the country.

I guess it is the way they choose to spend their advertising budgets these days when we constantly hear about our struggling economy, it may be time for the pharmaceuticals to adjust their thinking. Every time we go to a doctor's office or a hospital we are given a Bill of Rights that explains to patients the control they have over their healthcare. Of course that control includes choosing your doctor, your hospital, your pharmacy, your home care company, and yes, your medication. So spend the money on education for the physicians and on the patients themselves.

Let’s face it, a new administration is about to take over and try to fundamentally change the practices of our healthcare. If our healthcare system becomes more socialized, most patients, (consumers) will likely be shocked then become very angry. For example, in our new HSA plan that we’ve been forced to take, my out of pocket expense for medication alone will jump to nearly $1,000 per month. I assure you I will discuss less expensive alternatives with my doctor. I have to think the cheaper alternative may be from a company who doesn’t book private clubs to host quarterly cocktail dinners for physicians and their spouses but instead by the company who chooses a grass roots approach by involving the patient (consumer) in the medication choices. Many will begin to price medications, look at their personal budgets and make a choice of what they will take. Many physicians will simply quit practicing medicine if the new administrations proposed plans become reality. This all means the question of what drug rep has the coolest toy will be nothing more than a forgotten part of American history.

So put the control in the patients’ hands by rethinking the advertising budget. Colorful, pull out ads in national magazines, minute long ads during the Super Bowl, and Sunday newspaper circulars aren’t necessary. Instead, use creative and less expensive ways to get the word out about medications. Put the control in the patients’ (consumer’s) hands and let them discuss it with their physicians. Advertise through samples and not through key chains and golf towels. Let the public know you are helping the little guy, which is after all, how America became the strongest nation in the world. I guess I am saying don’t contribute to the healthcare crisis – help to fix it!

Jaci Russo said...

Wow - you make fantastic points. You are absolutely right, if the $1.4B that is currently being spent on promo items was instead used to reduce the cost of healthcare, think of how much more affordable it would become.

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