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Pfizer plans to use Comirnaty – Quartz for its Covid-19 vaccine. to advertise

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Pfizer is about to start promoting a new product in the United States: the Covid-19 vaccine.

That might sound a little strange. After all, it’s hard to imagine a product that has received more advertising than the Covid-19 vaccine. Governments, activists, health professionals, celebrities, and ordinary citizens are all unpaid advocates for it, and urge anyone who isn’t vaccinated to get a vaccination, often a second and soon a third.

The US is one of only two countries, along with New Zealand, that allows direct marketing of prescription drugs to consumers. When Pfizer’s vaccine, now branded Comirnaty, received clearance from the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on August 23, the company also received approval to market it and expanded its distribution to do so .

Pharmaceutical companies spend exorbitant amounts on marketing, their largest single area of ​​expenditure, before research and development. In 2019, Pfizer spent about $ 2.4 billion on advertising, and its resources promoting the Covid-19 vaccine could be even greater when you consider that the company will already make $ 15 billion from it, before it is marketed.

The company hired the Ogilvy advertising agency to work on a campaign. “We plan to take a thoughtful approach to marketing and promoting Comirnaty to the public during this time, with the aim of building confidence in the vaccination,” said Eamon Nolan, a Pfizer spokesman, in an e- Mail to Quartz. Both Pfizer and Ogilvy declined to provide further details about the campaign.

Whatever thoughtful approach the company wants to take to commercialization, it is likely that the goal will be to expand the market for Covid-19 vaccines and convince as many people as possible to use the Pfizer BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine instead of purchasing one of the others that are available.

This becomes especially important as Americans over 65 and at high risk of Covid-19 will soon receive a booster dose after a panel of FDA advisors recommended it to boost their immune response. Other groups won’t need the booster yet, but they probably will at some point, especially as drug companies refine their products to be more effective against the Delta variant. Preliminary research shows that mixing vaccines with a booster has no disadvantages, and possibly even advantages, so that Pfizer could compete for part of the market to replenish other vaccines. If the Covid-19 vaccine becomes an annual appointment, like a flu shot, Pfizer also sees a potential market of around 300 million doses per year in the US alone.

How can the Pfizer BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine be advertised?

It’s hard to think of precedents where advertising a drug coincided with a major public campaign to promote it, let alone to that extent. Even when AIDS drug cocktails were introduced, the advertisement was not for a specific drug, but for the availability of treatments in general.

But the huge publicity machine related to the vaccine, which includes cash prizes for those who receive the vaccination, doesn’t necessarily make the job of promoting Comirnaty any easier. In fact, this creates pretty choppy waters for a marketing team, says Pradeep Chintagunta, a professor at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business who specializes in pharmaceutical marketing.

Pfizer has two main types of direct mail available to consumers. The first is known as a seek-help advertisement and is a type of advertisement that does not recommend a specific drug. This type of advertising is aimed at increasing awareness of a disease, or in this case, the availability of a vaccine and its value. It focuses on expanding the market and letting consumers know to speak to their doctors, but it cannot specifically mention Comirnaty or any product, although it may carry the Pfizer logo.

This type of advertising, according to Chintagunta, could even be done in collaboration with other drug manufacturers and would have the main goal of expanding the potential market. It would have another benefit that could prove particularly valuable in vaccine promotion: the drug’s side effects do not need to be listed.

This does not apply to the second type of advertisement that Pfizer might choose, a Product Claim ad. This type of advertising promotes the prescription drug by its brand name, but must clearly list side effects and risks as well as its benefits. A product claim ad can also be comparative and sell a product by highlighting that it is superior to a competitor.

For Comirnaty, this latter type of advertising could be a minefield.

On the one hand, it would be valuable for Pfizer to be able to advertise the respective product, especially in the longer term. One of the concerns is that with so many companies working on vaccines, there are so many options and oversupply of vaccines available, says Chintagunta. “Competition is going to be a big deal, and the way a company can communicate the relative benefits of its vaccine could then really be crucial,” he says.

However, this carries the risk of discouraging potential patients from getting the vaccine, as reading or hearing the entire list of side effects could alarm someone, even if the side effects pale in comparison to the risks of Covid-19. Comparative advertising would add to this risk; Highlighting deficiencies in a competing product could result in a decrease in confidence in any vaccine, regardless of manufacturer.

Advertisers seeking help would not take this risk, but could have a limited effect, at least in the short term. It’s hard to imagine that someone in the US doesn’t know at least about Covid-19 and the possibility of vaccination.

Who would benefit from Comirnaty’s advertising?

There’s one more element to consider, says Chintagunta. Americans, who traditionally disdain pharmaceutical companies, associate drug marketing with greed, and vaccine skeptics could be further chased away if they view the vaccine as a commercial product. “When this product is seen as something we should be getting for free […] the fact that it is advertised and people may have to pay for it could be bad for the company, ”he says.

All of this calls for caution when it comes to promoting Comirnaty. However, many pharmaceutical marketing companies believe the company will go out of their way to promote the drug as best it can.

Markus Saba, a professor of health marketing at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, said he expected the campaign for Cominarty to be proportional to the size of the health problem in a century compared to the prominence of campaigns for Viagra. “You turn on the TV and you can’t see a show without doing 10 different commercials,” he told the Financial Times.

But while direct mail is the most visible part of the marketing effort, an equally important, if not more important and lower risk area of ​​advertising is reaching hospitals, doctors and pharmacies. In contrast to the first vaccination campaign, the booster vaccinations are likely to be administered via the doctor or pharmacy like the flu vaccination. Therefore, it will be of vital importance for Pfizer to convince those prescribing or administering the vaccine to recommend Pfizer over Moderna or other options. “If it defaults to the traditional ‘Go to your doctor and get the syringe’ then [the game] is not played on-air or on the pages of a magazine, but in the doctor’s office, ”says Chintagunta.

However, there is one important aspect where Pfizer’s direct mail marketing could be helpful to the consumer, not just the company, but the entire vaccine campaign. If its resources were directed to fine-grained targeted advertising, it could move the needle of vaccination skepticism in groups that have not responded to government campaigns and other forms of vaccine funding, such as young adults or immigrant communities. “This is where you can flex your marketing muscles, I think the benefits of targeted advertising can really show in this particular case,” says Chintagunta.

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