Moral Dilemma and the Ethics of Pharmaceutical Marketing
You are the product manager, marketing manager, or even VP of Marketing. You understand the regulatory and legal constraints on your marketing but are there ethical considerations depending upon how your product compares to other therapeutic options? Let’s start with the easy one ….
You have the treatment of choice with few, if any, other therapeutic options that can help patients for a particular indication. Any ethical issues in promoting your product? Probably not, unless you really go out of your way to exaggerate the efficacy or safety of the product beyond what you can prove. How about when your product benefit and indication is for a small patient population for which you already have a majority of the market and the company expects you to grow revenues next year? Any ethical issues now? Probably not if you continue to promote within your market but what about bigger “off-label” indications?.
How about a product that is as good as everything else to treat a particular disease? Your product is no better or no worse than the other products. You might have a few features that are better but the other products have a few that are better than yours. Neither your product nor competitors has a clear efficacy, safety, or feature advantage that clinically matters. What are the ethical issues for promotion in this situation? How about comparative advertising when you know there is no difference? Can you make your product look better than the other products? This is probably the most likely scenario for most products today. Probably not too many ethical issues yet unless you exaggerate your benefits beyond your clinical proof or downplay your safety issues to create a competitive advantage.
Now, same scenario as above (no difference) but you are the branded product and there are several generic versions of therapeutic alternatives (in the same class of drug) for the indication? Are you tempted to make a difference out of no difference to maintain your branded product sales? Is it ethical to expect patients (or insurers) to pay more for the same therapeutic outcome? I can hear it already…branded products are de facto better than generics.
How about when you have a product that is not as effective or as safe as competitive products or therapeutic alternatives? Getting more interesting isn’t it? The company still has revenue growth expectations so what are you going to do? Should you be trying to get more patients on your product if it isn’t as safe or effective as other products? You are probably thinking it is the physician’s choice, not you making that decision….right? If you can convince the physician to use your product, it’s their decision…right? How do you feel about that? How does your manager feel about this? How does your company feel about this? What would they say if you raised the issue with them?
While I’m not certain product managers or companies for that matter are thinking this way, they are faced with these issues everyday in the pharmaceutical industry. Think about the products your company promotes. Which scenario do each of the company’s products fit into? How are they being promoted? How do you feel about that? Anybody in the company asking these questions?
What’s the answer to this dilemma?
How about company executives (VP Marketing or higher) recognizing the issues and making the call so as not to put front line marketing managers in a difficult, potentially career jeopardizing position? In the future, have more products in the first scenario ….innovative clearly differentiated products that you are proud of and that you can promote without having to compromise your ethics.