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What went wrong with healthcare advertising?

By , agencyfaqs! | In Advertising | October 04, 2005
Although the healthcare advertising sector has never realised its potential, Indian advertising professionals are still hopeful about the new patent regime bringing about growth here


A few years ago, when pharma & #BANNER1 & # companies started shifting from Rx to OTC (over the counter) products, many leading agencies launched a separate division for healthcare advertising, expecting a huge growth in this sector.

However, the sector never quite realised its full potential. agencyfaqs! spoke to a couple of senior advertising professionals to find out what went wrong.

Pushpinder Singh, national creative head, Ambience Publicis, says, "When the pharmaceutical companies started switching over to OTC from Rx products, it was observed that doctors stopped prescribing those products. This alarmed the pharmaceutical companies because they were not completely ready or rather couldn't afford to shift away completely from doctors."

Talking along similar lines, JS Mani, executive vice-president, Bates India, says, "The lack of any pricing regime in the pharma sector led to the negative growth in healthcare advertising."

He explains, "Unlike FMCG products, the prices of healthcare products are controlled by the government. This compels pharma companies to operate in a low-profit margin environment. As a result, pharma brands have very little money left to be spared for advertising."

However, Mani says he is still hopeful that the healthcare sector scenario will change. If one goes by his opinion, the entry of international pharma companies in the new patent regime could change things dramatically.

Mani clarifies, "Previously, if any international pharma company had a blockbuster product, Indian companies would launch the same generic product at a cost that was a fraction of the original price. This discouraged many international pharma companies from launching their brands here. But now, with the new patent laws, Indian companies can't do this any more. This will probably see many international brands being launched in the country, thus increasing the growth prospects of healthcare advertising."

Some other advertising professionals also feel that the healthcare advertising divisions will grow. Justifying this claim, Sunil Varma, vice-president, brands, Ogilvy and Mather, Delhi, says, "There is a growing trend of people preferring to buy medicines over the counter, instead of consulting a doctor, especially for ailments such as a headache or mild fever. Pharmaceutical companies do not want to miss out on this space, where they can reach out to consumers directly."

Asha Kapoor, executive director, Sudler and Hennessey, the JV partner of Rediffusion DY&R in the healthcare sector, agrees with this point of view. She says, "There is a growing need in our country for OTC products, mainly because we do not have enough physicians to cater to the entire population of India. So, it is important that some products should be sold over the counter."

However, she also puts in a word of caution, saying that one needs to be careful that one doesn't antagonise doctors and chemists while promoting OTC brands.

Then there are those like KV Sridhar, national creative director, Leo Burnett, who feel that there has been a serious lack of good creatives in the healthcare sector.

Sridhar says, "The packaging of pharma products is still very weak and the brand names are not at all consumer friendly. In such a scenario, even if a highly creative campaign is conceptualised for a brand, the effect is minimal. Once these aspects are taken care of, pharma companies will realise the effectiveness of campaigns, which, in turn, will inspire them to invest more in advertising."

2005 agencyfaqs!

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