Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Is there a target consumer in the house?

The NYTimes seems a little startled to report that Guidant paid doctors to implant its new heart device in patients as part of a study. But after a few paragraphs, they fess up: paying doctors isn't such a big deal. Everybody does it. "The two other major heart device companies, Medtronic Inc. and St. Jude Medical, also said they run product evaluation programs. All three companies said their payments to doctors for taking part in such surveys reflected reasonable compensation for a physician's time."

Essentially, products are being sampled and a target audience is being focus-grouped. It just happens to involve people's health and much larger sums of money.

If that makes you clinch, consider what happens if there's a total ban on pharmaceutical advertising to consumers. It's the heart device "study" writ large. And small. Doctors become the sole target of pharma promotions. Without consumer campaigns, pharma brands will have more dollars to spend on a smaller audience and -- presto -- even bigger rewards for doctors who prescribe their new drugs. And patients won't know a thing about it.

So which is worse? To allow pharmaceutical companies to run consumer advertising out in the open -- right there on TV -- where we all can evaluate it? Or opt instead for promotions that pay doctors cold, hard cash while never letting patients in on the info or the rewards?

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