Pharmaceutical marketing can often be a very big, very sharp double-edged sword.
In order to make drugs and stay in business, pharmaceutical companies have to speak to their audience, which used to be primarily doctors. But lately, it’s shifted to the patients.
When speaking directly to patients, it can be very easy to cross the line from simple marketing and helpful information to exploiting people who need your product. That’s the black and white view, anyway. But in conditions such as hemophilia, where patients will be on factor medications for the entirety of their lives, the truth can vary from person to person and is inevitably colored in multiple shades of gray.
The website, STAT, has a good, balanced overview of how the different companies marketing factor for people with hemophilia have approached building relationships with patients over the years.
These tactics—ranging from hemophilia-themed comics, toys, and camps for younger patients all the way up to scholarships and educational programs—strike some consumer advocates as the type of “wining and dining” behavior that typified relationships between pharma and doctors in days past. And in some people’s minds, this builds a type of dependent relationship between consumer and manufacturer that goes one ethical bridge too far, particularly when the patient being targeted is a child.
These particular grievances were recently given voice in an article published in the journal, PLOS Medicine.
In it, the authors argue that the single-minded pursuit of brand loyalty by way of free giveaways could cloud consumer judgment in regards to finding the treatments that are best for them.
On the other side of the divide, you have the pharmaceutical companies themselves, who have spent the last two decades being put through the wringer of FDA-oversight on every piece of marketing released into the wild—from multi-million dollar TV ads to $1.50 souvenir pens. As some of the companies who responded to the article point out, every educational effort or outreach must adhere to strict regulatory guidelines—and that includes a transparency of sponsorship and purpose (a requirement even the PLOS Medicine article’s authors were not immune to).
So, who’s right?
As is pretty much always the case, when it comes to patient care, it really does depend. One person’s idea of creepy child-encroachment through branded chotskies is another person’s invaluable educational tool, so every person living with hemophilia or parent of a child with hemophilia has to take a step back and work with their own doctors to figure out what’s best for their situation.
Ask questions and be open-minded to what pharmaceutical companies are offering, but don’t just take what they’re saying at face value, either. When it comes to marketing, everyone comes into a relationship with their own goals and expectations.
So take some time to think about your own goals and expectations, and then figure out who can best help you reach them.
But you should totally keep those hemophilia comic books. That swag could be valuable someday…