While print and TV ads have mostly steered clear of mentioning products by name, information on the brand associated with the "unbranded" efforts is just a click away on the Web.
"It's a simple premise," said Stu Klein, president of KPR, an Omnicom Group agency that does health-care advertising to professionals. "The unbranded ad drives people to an 800-number or a Web site, and then flips them [to the brand]."
For instance, Pfizer's disease awareness campaign for erectile dysfunction that hit the market last November urged men to "Make the Call" in order to establish a dialogue with their doctor. But in pushing the Web site, makethecall.com, the home page featured a link where you can "sign up to get information about an ED treatment that could help improve your sex life." One click took you to a page where Viagra is prominently mentioned in capital letters.
"Our approach to this is that people use a variety of information sources in order to take action," said a spokeswoman for Pfizer. "In some cases, part of that is raising awareness, and the other piece to it is that people need to know there are treatment options. Certainly from a business standpoint we want people to be aware of that."
Pfizer last year also ran an unbranded campaign for depression featuring a real-life testimonial from actress Lorraine Bracco. It included a Web site, depressionhelp.com. The site featured Ms. Bracco, but at the bottom of the home page there was a link to prescribing information for Zoloft.
Pfizer certainly isn't alone. In 2004, Novartis introduced a disease-awareness campaign for hypertension called "Take Action for Healthy Blood Pressure," via Deutsch, New York. The TV, print, Internet and campaign targeted the 60 million Americans who suffer from high blood pressure, and the 40 million of those who fail to comply with a recommended course of treatment.
Novartis served up an unusual twist by offering a money-back guarantee. Under the terms of the promotion, patients who do not reach the agreed-upon target blood-pressure goal will be eligible for reimbursement of up to four months of out-of-pocket drug costs. But that's only after taking the maximum dose of Novartis' hypertension medications Diovan, Diovan HCT or Lotrel, which the company was able to weave into some of its marketing.
"No one can afford to do pure education," said BBDO Worldwide's director of health care, Anne Devereux, who earlier this year guided dual campaigns-branded and unbranded-for GlaxoSmithKline's diabetes medication Avandia. "You still have to build the brand."