Rx for Brand Consistency. Should Pharmaceutical Marketers Send Different Messages to Physician and Consumer Audiences?

Kim Saxton

Kelley School of Business


At the “moment of truth,” when a doctor talks about a specific brand with a patient, we have to make sure these two don’t talk past each other. We have to make sure that they both think this brand stands for the same thing. Using the same executional elements means they both recognize which brand is being chosen.

Marketing director, U.S. pharmaceutical company

Prescription-drug advertising poses an interesting challenge for pharmaceutical marketers. Doctors and patients interact with one another in choosing a prescription drug brand—no one makes the choice completely on his or her own. During this interaction, patients need to be able to adequately describe their symptoms. Doctors, in turn, use these symptoms to help them determine which brand of medication to prescribe. The patient then must agree (or, at least, not disagree) to comply with the treatment. For many years, pharmaceutical marketers in the United States promoted their brands only to doctors. Not only did they believe that doctors held more power in this interaction but the U.S. government—via the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA)—also did not allow them to promote directly to consumers.