Savvy, aging boomers buy into pharma mantra

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Melissa Petty is concerned about her health. She surfs the Web in search of medical information, meets with support groups, and reads health books and magazines. While the 48-year-old isn't sick, she wants to do all that she can to protect herself-and her family-from potential ailments.

Ms. Petty is a pharmaceutical marketer's dream consumer. She's knowledgeable about preventive medicines and readily seeks out health research. She's also typical of many in her baby boomer peer group.

"Boomers are pro-active about health maintenance," says Sheron Davis, senior VP-planning and research group director at Omnicom Group's BBDO Worldwide, New York, where she works on numerous healthcare accounts. "They want to extend their lives and make sure the quality of life is there."

"Our generation wants to know everything, and we're willing to be assertive and search for information," Ms. Petty agrees.

happy to oblige

As health-conscious baby boomers such as Ms. Petty become increasing interested in medical information, direct-to-consumer marketers are happy to oblige. The enormous population growth among 45-to-55-year-old consumers (from 25 million in 1990 to 38 million in 2000, a 52% increase, according the U.S. Census Bureau) as well as their rising income levels make this group the ideal target market. Median household incomes were $42,000 in 1999, up 7.7% from 1989, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

"The opportunity for marketers to target [this group] is going to be enormous," says John Edwards, exec VP-managing partner of the Healthy Grey unit of Grey Global Group, New York.

While Ms. Petty currently takes hormone replacement therapy as a preventive measure against Alzheimer's disease, others in her peer group will increasingly need medication for diabetes, high blood pressure, osteoporosis and cardiovascular disease.

This information-hungry segment also is a prime market for the role they play as caregivers to aging parents. Baby boomers not only have to make health decisions for themselves, they often are responsible for a parent's medical concerns. Mel Sokotch, exec VP-director of consumer healthcare at Interpublic Group of Cos.' Foote, Cone & Belding Worldwide, New York, says pharmaceutical marketers now must decide where to focus their ad efforts-on the older person with the ailment, on their children or on both.

In April, biotechnology giant Amgen broke a public relations and educational effort that featured actor Rob Lowe discussing his father's complications with chemotherapy. The "By My Side" effort promoted Amgen's infection-fighting drug Neulasta. Amgen Senior Marketing Manager Osnat Benshoshan says one goal of this effort, as well as many of the company's other promotional campaigns, is to "reach both the patient and the caregiver." She adds: "The circle of influence-friends and family-is very important." Amgen is also exploring the idea of extending the campaign to a DTC ad effort this fall via FCB.

One thing is certain. The 65-plus age group, which in 2002 accounts for 12.5% of the population, according to Orange, Calif.-based SRC, is a cash cow for marketers. "As medication gets better, the aging population gets older," says Mr. Sokotch. "The older you get, the more you spend on medicine."

The Hispanic community is one area where the involvement of children is particularly prevalent, says Lisa Quiroz, publisher of Time Inc.'s People en Espanol and a member of Pfizer's Hispanic advisory board. Ms. Quiroz points out that as Hispanics age, younger generations not only act as a caregiver but also as medical translator for non-English-speaking family members.

Ms. Quiroz gives the example of Pfizer's Alzheimer's drug Aricept, which spent $30.9 million on advertising in 2001, up 50.2%, according to Advertising Age's Leading National Advertisers report (AA, June 24). "They're not just thinking of where to reach the 60-year-olds," she says. "They're thinking, `How can we reach the daughter as gatekeeper for her mother's health interest?' "

Healthcare marketers also are homing in on Hispanics of all age groups as that population continues to expand. According to census data, 35.3 million Hispanics lived in the U.S. in 2000, representing 12.5% of the total population. That number is up from 22 million in 1990, and SRC estimates it will reach 44.1 million, or 14.6% of the population, by 2007.

Easier to reach

"The projected explosion of Hispanics in the population is something we're all paying attention to," says Len Tacconi, executive director of integrated marketing communications at Merck & Co. Adding to the appeal of their sheer numbers is the 5.3% increase in Hispanic household income reported in Census 2000.

While the percentage of Hispanics in each state varies, demographic researchers and marketing experts say this burgeoning population is becoming easier to reach with national media buys.

"There's not a single county in the U.S., including Alaska and Hawaii, that doesn't have a Hispanic in it," says Rick Tobin, president of Strategy Research Corp., Miami. "Down the road, we'll be able to look at a national Hispanic population."

Overall, marketers and ad agencies are increasing their use of national media not just to reach Hispanics but other growing markets as well. During the last five years, Merck has moved toward more national buys for its brands. "There's efficiency in national media," says Mr. Tacconi. "We have large brands that have a large base."

Merck's total U.S. ad spending was $1.14 billion in 2001, up 14.2%, according to Ad Age's LNA. GlaxoSmithKline spent $881 million in 2001, up 5.2%. Some other drug marketers cut spending, including Bristol-Myers Squibb Co., which spent $974 million, down 2.8%.

"As the target is getting big enough and more mainstream, using mass media becomes more effective," adds Healthy Grey's Mr. Edwards. "Rather than just running an ad in Modern Maturity, you can now justify doing a national TV campaign because there's not going to be as much waste of the media."