Promotion of pharmaceutical products

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As the pharmaceutical market grows and develops, its operators are paying more and more attention to such an important tool as a pharmaceutical promotion. In this article, we will look at what pharmaceutical promotion includes, the ethical standards of advertising in this industry, and what tools are available for more effective advertising and sales of medicines.

What does “pharmaceutical promotion” include

The World Health Organization defines pharmaceutical promotion as all types of information, advertising and research activities that are carried out by companies that manufacture and sell drugs to stimulate wholesale and retail sales of medicines. In pharmacology, these activities include:

  • advertising campaigns;
  • individual visits by sales representatives;
  • providing free samples;
  • sponsoring educational and scientific events;
  • electronic mailings;
  • additional research on medical practice outcomes.

In other words, the term includes both direct promotional activities and covert advertising.

Why pharmaceuticals need promotion and marketing

Drug manufacturers spend huge sums on promotion. From 2016 to 2018, drug makers spent $17.8 billion on direct-to-consumer advertising (DTCA) for 553 drugs, which has been relatively steady at about $6 billion a year. No less impressive sums are spent on drug advertising among doctors and medical students.

Such expenses are related to the great competition in the pharmaceutical market. The fact that a new drug has access to the market and has proven efficacy does not guarantee high sales. At the same time, manufacturers strive to recoup the funds spent on developing the drug as quickly as possible and ensure a return to investors. That is why companies choose a strategy of aggressively promoting new products, especially if their advantages over drugs that are already on the market and have gained consumer confidence are less obvious. The purpose of such promotional activities is to try to convince doctors and other medical professionals to prescribe, and patients buy new drugs.

Features of the pharmaceutical market and drug marketing

The market for pharmaceuticals has several specific characteristics that make for a special approach in developing a marketing strategy to promote them:

  • the patient does not so much make the decision to take many types of drugs as by their treating physician or pharmacist, so advertising campaigns for medications are aimed at both end users and intermediaries in the form of medical professionals;
  • improper use of medications can cause harm to the patient, so only certified professionals can be salespeople, and the sales process itself is regulated by law.

Based on these features, marketers should consider such points when developing drug advertising campaigns:

  • the classic scheme of product purchase and sale includes a third-person intermediary – a pharmacist or physician, who most often chooses the end consumer;
  • a drug is a product that is not bought spontaneously, only when necessary;
  • the efficacy and safety of the product are a more significant advantage than the lower cost;
  • the pharmaceutical industry is controlled and regulated by the government.

In addition, incorrect or controversial advertising of drugs can also be harmful to consumers, so when developing a promotional campaign should be taken into account the ethical criteria for the promotion of medicines, approved back in 1988 at the 41st session of the WHO in Geneva (Resolution WHA41.17).

Ethical Criteria for Promoting Medicines

The main purpose of ethical criteria for pharmaceutical promotion is to support and promote health care through the rational use of medicines.

Ethical criteria vary from country to country and among different population segments. However, in every society, ethical issues are related to the development of generally accepted norms of behavior. Ethical criteria for marketing medicines are intended to provide a framework for correctly promoting medicines, built on the principles of honesty and integrity. Thus, the ethical criteria are intended to determine whether the practice of advertising drugs complies with generally accepted ethical norms.

These criteria reflect general principles of ethical standards that governments can adapt to their national systems according to political, economic, cultural and social conditions, taking into account the educational, scientific and technological situation, legislation, as well as the level of population morbidity, treatment traditions and development of the health care system. 

Ethical criteria apply to prescription and over-the-counter medicines, as well as to traditional medicines and any other product advertised as a medicine. These criteria can be used by:

  • governments;
  • in the pharmaceutical industry (manufacturing and supplying firms);
  • information and promotional agencies (advertising agencies, market research organizations, etc.)
  • health care professionals who are involved in prescribing, dispensing, supplying and distributing medicines;
  • universities and other educational institutions;
  • professional associations;
  • patients and consumers;
  • in the specialized and mass media (including medical publications). 

The list of ethical criteria adopted by the WHO includes the following points:

  1. A drug should be promoted only on the basis of scientific evidence supporting its efficacy and safety.
  2. Advertising materials must be accurate, objective and not misleading to patients and physicians.
  3. Promotional materials must not misrepresent the risks and side effects of the medicine.
  4. The regulatory authorities must approve promotional materials for the control of medicines.
  5. Promotional materials must not be harmful to patient health or public health.
  6. Promotional materials must not be contrary to medical ethics and principles of fairness.
  7. Promotional materials must not include obscene language, abusive statements or materials that may cause a negative reaction in public.
  8. Promotional materials should not be directed at children or minors.
  9. Promotional materials should not contain promises to treat or cure diseases that are not supported by scientific research.

These criteria help ensure that pharmaceutical promotion is ethical, and responsible, and does not have negative consequences for a patient and public health.

Pharmaceutical promotion – specifics related to market changes and new technologies

Modern pharmaceutical promotion differs from what it used to be due to market changes, new technologies, and changing consumer behavior. Listed below are some of the features of modern pharmaceutical promotion:

  1. The use of digital technology. Many people are now using the Internet for health and drug information. Therefore, companies can use various digital channels (e.g., Web sites, social networks, mobile apps) to draw attention to their products.
  2. Focus on patients. Today’s companies are increasingly focused on the needs and interests of patients. They focus on informing patients about their products, educating them about self-management of their health, and helping to reduce fears and doubts.
  3. Increasing competition. There is a lot of competition in the market for pharmaceuticals these days. Therefore, companies need to provide their products with maximum visibility and appeal in the market to attract new patients.
  4. The need to ensure product safety and quality. With increasing demands on product safety and quality, companies must focus on developing and manufacturing products that meet high standards.
  5. Regulatory constraints. Due to stringent regulatory requirements, companies must carefully monitor what messages they publish about their products and in what form.

In general, modern pharmaceutical promotion requires companies to take maximum responsibility and attention to the needs and interests of patients, as well as ensure the quality and safety of products in accordance with the requirements of regulatory bodies. If you’re looking to promote the sale of a different product through a sales promoter, Allego is the best platform you can consider

Digital trends in pharmaceutical promotion

Because of all the peculiarities and limitations of the pharmaceutical industry, for many years, marketers preferred to use traditional channels to promote pharmaceuticals – most often personal visits to physicians by pharmaceutical company representatives. That all changed after the pandemic forced everyone, including manufacturers and medical professionals, to limit personal contact. As a result, brands are now actively using digital marketing strategies to promote pharmaceutical products. Even in B2B, in-person visits by pharma employees use certain mobile gadgets, such as tablets, to show presentations, slides or videos. That said, many physicians and pharmacists find e-mail, Viber and sms to be the most understandable and effective ways to communicate with companies.

If the company’s management has decided to increase its online presence, it is necessary to develop a digital strategy. It will describe your target audience, its correct segmentation, the advantages of your products, and creative solutions. It will also help consider the specifics of OTC promotion, communication channels, and budget. In addition, while developing your digital strategy, it is important to pay attention to nuances such as:

  • the performance of your website or landing page;
  • the quality of customer service feedback, telephony, and order processing;
  • whether you have a staff member knowledgeable in web analytics, with this, it is possible to evaluate the effectiveness of your advertising campaign.

Of course, to create an effective digital strategy, you need to understand the digital tools of online advertising.

The main digital trends in the promotion of the pharmaceutical industry

Influencer marketing

Opinion leaders in medicine and pharmacology are directly and indirectly involved (used) in the promotion of medicines and services.

Influencer marketing is gaining momentum in many industries. Celebrities and influencers with huge followers help build trust between consumers and companies.

By working with patients as brand ambassadors, so-called “influencers” can engage their fans as support groups and create communities sharing useful information. As a result, people are more open and willing to tell their stories to those who know their problem and will understand the condition.


In health care, responding quickly and addressing easily diagnosed problems allows professionals to focus on issues that may require full physician attention. Patients also need a quick response from a specialist and expert advice.

Chatbots are useful for communicating with elderly patients. An assistant bot can be created to remind patients to take their medications regularly.

The helper could even warn of possible interactions between multiple medications using other technologies such as analytics and artificial intelligence. However, automated systems should not be considered a substitute for expert opinions, especially when risks include threats to patients.

Artificial intelligence in healthcare

This is one of the emerging trends in healthcare technology and pharmacology. The development of artificial intelligence (AI) machines that can process information and provide data to make decisions like humans have spawned a whole new sector of innovative healthcare technology.

AI applications can improve the speed and accuracy of the diagnostic process. For example, the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) not long ago approved the first artificial intelligence-based diagnostic device used to detect prostate cancer.

Machine learning algorithms are also being used to safely learn about chemical and biological interactions in the drug discovery process, allowing new drugs to be brought to market faster.

Internet of Things in Medicine (IOMT)

Various devices and mobile apps have become important for many patients and their doctors to track and prevent chronic diseases. Combining the development of the IoT with telemedicine and telehealth technologies, a new Internet of Medical Things (IoMT) has emerged. According to Frost & Sullivan, nearly 60 percent of healthcare activity in 2017 was using IoT or IoMT systems, and each year the market for IoT devices in healthcare is growing.

This approach involves the use of several wearable devices, including ECG and EEG monitors. In addition, many other common medical measurements, such as skin temperature, glucose levels and blood pressure readings, can also be performed.

The Internet of Things is impacting the future of patient monitoring as devices provide additional information and monitor patients in real-time. Clinicians can interact with patients in real-time using data collected by IoT devices, improving patient care. IoT devices also allow devices to collect more data for analytics purposes.

How health economics consulting can help promote pharmaceutical products

Health economics consulting can also help pharmaceutical companies promote their products by providing valuable information about the market, consumers, competitors and trends. Specialized companies, such as Digital Health Outcomes, provide consulting services. To learn more about their services, visit

The following are some ways that health economics consulting can help pharmaceutical companies promote their products:

  1. Market analysis. Consultants can conduct market research and provide the company with information about the demand for certain categories of drugs, the availability of competitors, and how these companies market their products.
  2. Pricing Policy Analysis. Consultants can analyze a company’s and its competitors’ pricing policies, determine the best pricing strategy, and help the company price its products.
  3. Marketing Campaign Analysis. Consultants can evaluate the effectiveness of a company’s and competitors’ marketing campaigns, help formulate messages to the target audience, and choose the most effective promotion channels.
  4. Analysis of regulatory requirements. Consultants can evaluate regulatory requirements and help the company comply with regulatory requirements.
  5. Consumer behavior analysis. Consultants can analyze consumer behavior and preferences and help the company formulate a promotional strategy to meet market requirements and patient needs.

In other words, health economics consulting can help pharmaceutical companies promote their products effectively, considering the many factors that influence success in the healthcare marketplace.




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