Marketing in Big Pharma: An Analysis of Strategies, Implications, and Disaster

Whether it’s commercials on television or pop-up ads on social media, pharmaceutical companies have been marketing directly to the consumer for decades. This phenomenon is one feature of the United States that differs from most other developed countries, allowing for an opportunity to discuss and evaluate the evolution of domestic pharmaceutical marketing practices. This summer, I hope to understand this phenomenon, uncover which marketing techniques are most effective for specific audiences, and evaluate how they affect the consumer, the producer, the doctors, and the costs of the medication. Additionally, I hope to discover which drugs are most heavily marketed, which illnesses they tend to target, and if national treatment is ultimately more successful because of these efforts. Why are these specific drugs marketed in these specific ways, and what makes these drugs unique? Furthermore, I will evaluate the relationship between business and medicine, lending a critical eye to expose when business goes wrong and customers are taken advantage of. Especially in the world of medicine, affordable healthcare products are the difference between life and death. Mylan CEO, Heather Bresch, and former Turing Pharmaceuticals CEO, Martin Shkreli, have both been under fire in the past two decades for extraordinary price hikes of vital products merely to increase profit potential. I plan to research the EpiPen, Daraphim, and Insulin cases and understand the resulting laws and regulations that arose from these national scandals. This summer, I will examine the role of Big Pharma in America, explore the marketing techniques used in the pharmaceutical industry, and ultimately, discover their implications.

As mentioned in my proposal, my research this summer will primarily take place on campus because of the resources Swem Library has to offer, including the tremendous guidance given by research librarians. Additionally, staying on campus gives me access to the stacks of books on marketing and this history of marketing in the McLeod Business Library. I will be making use of these resources in-person and online, searching on databases like EBSCO and PubMed for research articles, experiments, and data about the development of the industry over the past 50 years. Outside of the library, I will be following news articles, reading criticisms of the industry and books about the techniques used, examining commercials advertising prescription drugs, and watching documentaries including Prescription Thugs (2015) and Big Bucks, Big Pharma: Marketing Disease and Pushing Drugs (2006). In addition, I found many interviews online of doctors, patients, and marketers alike, as well as a segment by comedian John Oliver which explores drug marketing to doctors rather than patients, all of which provide a variety of perspectives and attitudes to examine. When I am back home, I will continue looking at publicly available online resources, and hope to tour a pharmaceutical plant or spend a day at a company like AstraZeneca which develops and markets medicinal products. Overall, my summer research will make use of a variety of resources and perspectives to help answer my research questions outlined above and soothe my curiosities.