Marketing rationales to avoid in 2011 (part I)

Dr. Andree K Bates


I can’t hold my silence any longer. Too often in meetings I hear a few things uttered from pharmaceutical marketers demonstrating irrational leaps in logic. Let’s take a look at my top few…and see if you yourself have ever used these to justify your sales and marketing spends…

Irrational Logic #1. ‘My gut instinct is…’

Now, for ‘gut instinct’ to be accurate, it depends on who has it and how much experience they have and what their track record of success with that gut instinct is. If you are using gut instinct to make marketing decisions, you must be very wary and should always seek to confirm your gut instinct with fact based measurement.

I was totally against gut instinct in any situation for a very long time but I did find that I had to step back after one incident and be ever so slightly open to it…which has led me to the ‘it depends on who has it..’ proviso. I was working on ROI with all directors and marketers at Pfizer in one country. There was one table of directors and numerous tables of groups of marketers. We were doing ROI analysis of various marketing activities and to illustrate why you should not rely on ‘gut instinct’, I gave everyone certain scenarios of numbers for specific marketing activities and they had to look at these and decide which ones would provide the strongest ROI based on gut instinct – before we actually ran the numbers to see the reality. Every table of marketers were unsuccessful on the ‘gut instinct’ area but one table consistently had their gut instinct match up with the reality once the real calculations were done…and that table was the Directors table. So, it *can* work but you really need to have the experience to be able to make it work and the majority of marketers who rely on it are leading themselves into troublesome waters…be careful if this is the mainstay of what you rely on.

Just remember that every product that is not growing could have the full support of someone’s gut that was ‘never wrong’.


“Just remember that every product that is not growing could have the full support of someone’s gut that was ‘never wrong’.”


Irrational Logic #2: “Doctors say…”

Doctors may say something is influencing their decision to prescribe but keep in mind that what people say, and what people do, are very different. Every pharmaceutical product that is not growing has a wealth of market research behind the decisions that have been made to support it growing. Something somewhere is not working. Humans like to rationalize why they do what they do and doctors are no different. Intent to prescribe research in particular is a very poor predictor of what will actually happen. When the AMA did a study linking what doctors said they would do, with what they actually did, they found that when the doctors believed their individual prescribing would be checked up on, they still only had around 75% towards doing what they said they would, whereas the ones that did not know they would be checked on had less than 10%. You really need to be wary of believing what doctors (and consumers) say when researched. If you ask people what they do, or why they do it, or what they think, I suspect you will learn much about their self-concept but little about their behaviour unless validated against what they actually do. Our own research has shown again and again that what doctors say is important in their prescribing of a particular therapy / disease area is NOT what actually drives their prescribing. For example, in one specialty area, doctors said their top three drivers of prescribing were large body of clinical evidence to support the brand, impressive write ups in journals and good patient compliance. In fact, the data showed that the real drivers were that the brand should be highly effective in maintaining remission, safe in the long term, and safe in the short term. We have examples in virtually every therapy area known to man where what doctors say is important and what actually drives prescribing are completely different!”

Another cautionary tale comes from the sleep disorder drug ‘Rozerem’ in the US. There was a lot of consumer research around the ‘Abraham Lincoln and the beaver’ ad campaign series that showed that it would absolutely convince consumers that the drug would send them to sleep. Much money was spent on that ad campaign (that won a lot of awards for the agency) and yet, sales did not rise as expected and highlighted the fact that research may show something but you need to validate that research!

Irrational Logic #3: “It won lots of awards…”

Speaking of Rozerem, this is not an unusual hypothesis. ‘The advertising won loads of awards so it must be good.’ This has been a problem for numerous brands and reminds me of another incident where this logic was an issue. It was a car advertisement. It was a very cool car advertisement wherein a camera was attached near the tyre so the view of everywhere the car went was from that angle. Very fun and interesting ride around a city. Everyone was talking about the ad, everyone loved it, it won loads of awards, but who could remember the car or even the car manufacturer? No-one. During that year, the overall sales for cars increased, however that specific manufacturer actually decreased their sales bucking the industry trend for that time period. Clearly the ad may have won awards and may have been cool but it didn’t grow the sales as expected and a lot of money was wasted on it.


“Every pharmaceutical product that is not growing has a wealth of market research behind the decisions that have been made to support it growing.”

One other thing to keep in mind with awards….who is awarding them. Advertising awards are awarded by advertising agencies or their clients for ‘Best Copy’, ‘Most Original’ etc…however not by whether they actually did what they were meant to do i.e. grow sales or even drive brand awareness. One of my favourite marketers is Sergio Zyman who used to be the global director of marketing for Coca Cola. He did an amazing ad that everyone was talking about and it won awards and he pulled it after a very short time. There was uproar and when asked why he said ‘because our sales are static since it aired and we spent $5m on this ad and we could spend another $5m a week but why if the sales are not growing from it?’ Love that man!

Spare yourself the trouble that using this logic can cause and just admit that the number of awards your work is getting is great for your ego—but has nothing to do with your actual results. By all means though, consider using validated analytics that can actually demonstrate the relative impact of your ad spend is having on your customers prescribing, versus your other tactics!

Irrational Logic #4: “Awareness is up…”

Awareness is not sales. What if everyone knows about your advertisement but no-one is prescribing your product? Is that something to congratulate yourself about? I don’t think so. It means you probably did a memorable but ineffective ad or other program. This is not success so I would not go boasting about it until you have something a little more concrete – did the awareness translate into an actual increase in sales and profit? If it translated into sales – great – but if you spent more on the ad / program than you received in additional sales – not so great. The key is to make sure you can demonstrate the impact that each of your programs and channels are having on actual prescribing. Something to think about…


…just admit that the number of awards your work is getting is great for your ego—but has nothing to do with your actual results.”


Irrational Logic #5: “Sales are up…”

Okay – this is better than ‘awareness is up’ but why are sales up? Can you definitely link it with a specific activity? Just because they went up when you ran a specific activity doesn’t tie the two together exactly. It is tempting to make this leap of logic but you could be wrong. A great example of this was Harley Davidson in the early 1980’s when their sales suddenly increased when they changed their advertising campaign. They all congratulated themselves on the great advertising and the impact of it. However, interestingly at the same time the tariff on imported motorcycles increased from 4.4% to 49.4%. Is there a possibility that this may have had any part to play in the home country advantage for Harley? Maybe…

If sales increased when you ran a particular activity, great but be very careful is making the assumption of cause and effect without proper measurement. Make sure that you are able to disentangle the results of ALL aspects of your sales and marketing mix (messaging, different channels, individual marketing programs, sales force activities, pricing, etc) have on prescribing before cracking open the champagne!

Part II of this article can be viewed here

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For a confidential discussion on any of the topics raised in this article, please contact Dr Andree Bates or Eularis

What marketing rationales do you hear?