“Direct-to-Consumer” Ad Runs in New York Times

IMPATH’s first effort to reach consumers hits wrong chord with College of Am. Path.

CEO SUMMARY: Two pioneering advertising campaigns launched in September. Both Myriad Genetics and IMPATH targeted consumers with advertisements about diagnostic testing. In each case, the most vocal response to the advertising came from within the medical community. Within the pathology profession, IMPATH’s full-page advertisement in the New York Times Sunday Magazine was not well-received by some.

DIRECT-TO-CONSUMER advertising of diagnostic testing services is the new dynamic in the national marketplace for anatomic pathology services.

In the month of September, both Myriad Genetics, Inc. and IMPATH, Inc. placed advertisements in consumer publications. The objective was to educate consumers about the specific diagnostic laboratory testing services offered by each company.

However, in each case, this advertising attracted unfavorable attention by some health professionals. Their public response demonstrates that the concept of advertising diagnostic tests directly to consumers may still be ahead of its time.

Earlier this year, Myriad Genetics announced a two-city marketing test that started in September. Advertisements about its genetic screening tests target consumers in the Atlanta and Denver metropolitan areas. (See TDR, June 24, 2002.) News of the ad campaign caused some in the medical community to publicly question the ethics of advertising genetic screening directly to consumers. Newspapers and other media gave these criticisms wide play.

Like Myriad Genetics, IMPATH’s direct-to-consumer ads also attracted attention from within the medical community. On September 18, 2002, it ran a full-page advertisement in the Sunday magazine of the New York Times. The ad discussed the story of Artemis, a cancer patient whose tumor of unknown primary was not identified until her biopsy was sent to IMPATH.

Ad Generates A Response

Within days of the ad’s appearance, both IMPATH and the College of American Pathology (CAP) received complaints from irate pathologists. They were upset about the ad’s characterization of the “community lab” and the implication that local pathologists could not provide the same level of sophisticated cancer diagnostics as IMPATH.

In the ten weeks since the ad first appeared, IMPATH has spent considerable effort to work with the College and the pathology community to affirm and publicize its longstanding support of, and partnership with, pathologists in community hospitals throughout the United States.

Learning New Lessons

As part of this process, both IMPATH and the pathology profession are learning that consumer-directed advertisements about diagnostic testing can be interpreted differently by different segments of the marketplace.

“These ads in the New York Times were IMPATH’s first effort to communicate directly with consumers,” stated Paul Esselman, Senior Vice President, Sales & Marketing at IMPATH. “Our strategic goal was to build recognition for the role that pathologists play in cancer diagnostics with the patient’s healthcare team. The ad was designed to emphasize the synergies that exist between local pathologists, a patient’s oncologist, and IMPATH’s services, while reinforcing the benefits of maintaining the patient in a community setting.

“What surprised us was the range of response generated by this ad,” he said. “In particular, it was perceived by some that we were shifting away from our core strategy of supporting community hospital-based pathologists while others understood the message we were trying to convey.”

Growing Consumer Interest Recognized by IMPATH

IN RECENT YEARS, growing numbers of consumers have contacted IMPATH directly for information on cancer. In part, it was this consumer interest which triggered the idea of a “direct-to-consumer” ad campaign.

“IMPATH receives a steady flow of emails, phone calls and letters from consumers requesting information about cancer and cancer diagnostics,” stated Paul Esselman, Senior Vice President, Sales & Marketing at IMPATH. “Lots of consumers and patients are using the Internet for research on cancer and that’s frequently how they learn about us.

“Many patients are hungry for more knowledge about cancer and how pathologists play a role in diagnosing cancer and other diseases. Our advertising campaign was a first step to provide information and help patients understand more how pathology services can help them if they are diagnosed with cancer,” said Esselman.

CAP Helped In Ad Redesign

In response to these concerns, during October, IMPATH and the College of American Pathology exchanged letters, which were made public on the CAP Web site. IMPATH, with input from the College, is redesigning the advertisement and will run the revised ad in the New York Times Sunday Magazine on December 8 and December 22, 2002.

“The objective of this revised ad is to reinforce the value of pathology services and help patients better under- stand the role pathologists play in diagnosing cancer,” explained Esselman. “The College has given the revised ad a positive review.”

“IMPATH responsibly asked the College to review the revised ad,” stated Paul A. Raslavicus, M.D., President of CAP. “The upcoming ad will set the record straight on the important role of the community pathologist in healthcare.

“It’s essential that patients and consumers accurately understand pathology’s role,” noted Dr. Raslavicus. “Neither quality healthcare nor IMPATH can exist without good working partnerships with community pathologists.”

As a result of feedback from the original advertisement, IMPATH has gained a deeper appreciation for the importance of “staying on message” about the important and significant role pathology plays within community hospitals.

“There’s been a positive outcome,” observed Esselman. “We’ve been actively contacting clients and pathologists who use our services to reaffirm our commitment to them and partnership with them. We’ve also reached out to pathologists who were critical of the original advertisement to listen to their comments and provide more detail about our business philosophy and our intentions with the first advertisement.”

These early attempts by Myriad Genetics and IMPATH to use direct-to- consumer advertising to promote diagnostic tests have revealed one interesting fact. It is the medical profession which seems to be most sensitive to the concept of advertising health services directly to consumers. The “loudest” response to both companies’ ad campaigns came from medical professionals, not from consumers or consumer advocates.

Educating Consumers

It is important to also note that these early efforts to educate consumers about diagnostic tests were created and funded by publicly-traded companies. These companies are highly motivated to build specimen volume. They are willing to invest money in advertising as a way to influence consumers by educating them about possible options.

By advertising lab tests directly to consumers, lab companies are following the example established by the pharmaceutical industry. Direct-to-consumer ads promoting prescription drugs now generate billion-dollar sales for such familiar brands as Claritin and Prilosec. Even as Prilosec loses its patent protection, its manufacturer is using a national consumer ad blitz to switch patients to its newest, patent- protected product. That is why ads for Nexium have become ubiquitous.

THE DARK REPORT believes the trend to advertise lab tests directly to consumers, now in its infancy, will continue to grow. Along the way, many mistakes will be made. That’s because little is understood about how consumers will react to advertising about products which are involved in the detection and management of disease.

Ads About Pap Testing

Such knowledge and experience will only be developed through trial and error. One of the largest efforts to use advertising to educate consumers about a diagnostic test involved Cytyc Corporation’s ThinPrep® ad campaign. Ads touting ThinPrep ran in women’s magazines during the launch of that test. Those ads were considered to be effective at boosting both awareness and consumer demand for Cytyc’s test. But ThinPrep is a screening test, an enhancement to the conventional Pap smear that women recognize as a valuable and positive procedure.

In the case of cancer diagnostics, advertising to consumers involves a different emotion. Such advertising deals with cancer—which society considerable to be an unfortunate, tragic, and often fatal event. Will advertising such services directly to consumers be an effective way to educate them and motivate them to patronize the pathology company which ran the ad? Will such ads bring new business to the lab?

These are tough questions. The answers will come one ad campaign at a time. Because public laboratory companies are motivated to invest and experiment with direct-to-consumer advertising, they will be first to identify the benefits—and the drawbacks—of advertising diagnostic tests directly to consumers.

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