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Do Scare Tactics Work in Pharma Marketing?

By Steve Deitsch | Thu, October 6, 2016
Do Scare Tactics Work in Pharma Marketing?

A recent article in Advertising Age talks about the marketing trend of pharma companies using powerful fear and scare tactics to sell their drugs to consumers, including Pfizer, GSK, Mylan and others.  Many companies have turned to scare tactics as prices have risen and consumers have become more skeptical.

Some of the ads imply that if inflicted with certain conditions, you (or your child) could get severely ill if you don’t use their product.

In some cases, this can be effective, as some people might become motivated to talk to their doctor about their condition or even about the product.

However, this is a risky marketing strategy that could backfire.

First, some people may react by thinking that something that severe is not about them, and therefore ignore it.  For example, anti-smoking ads that use scary imagery have not been particularly effective among teens, the article notes.

Second, consumers may remember the scary image, but the ad does little to reinforce why a specific product is better than a competitor’s for that condition or disease.  So if there are multiple drugs in the category for that specific condition, it may actually boost the competitor’s business instead, if the patient does go to the doctor, but the doctor prescribes another product.

It seems that this strategy works best for disease awareness, or if there is one player in the category, as there is with Mylan’s EpiPen or Merck’s Gardasil, two of the companies using scare tactics in their ads.  Also, the specific audience needs to be market tested beforehand to see how they would react to scare tactics.

Posted in: Healthcare

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