Pfizer Eyes Fusion Data, Shifts Ads

Jul 28, 2003  •  Post A Comment

The largest marketer in one of the fastest-growing TV ad categories is writing a new script for planning and buying television time, but telecasters so far are largely oblivious to it.
In a dramatic shift, pharmaceutical giant Pfizer has begun moving away from conventional demographic TV targets sold by stations and networks and is buying time based on how actual users and targets of its brands watch TV.
The shift has been made possible by a still obscure and occasionally controversial research method that fuses Nielsen’s TV ratings data with a consumer research study developed for the pharmaceutical industry. The result has been the creation of pseudo TV targets based on the sufferers of specific diseases and ailments. Drug marketers and their agencies can use these targets to pinpoint consumers more precisely than they can with Nielsen’s conventional age- and gender-based demographics.
“For some of our brands, we have made significant changes because of this research,” said Sarah Power, VP and managing director, consumer strategies, at Carat Insight, the research division of Pfizer’s media shop Carat North America.
While Ms. Power would not provide specific examples of the changes for competitive reasons, she did say Carat used the fusion data to fine-tune which dayparts it bought for Pfizer brands during the 2003-04 network upfront.
“For a number of brands, it confirmed a daypart that might have been questionable based on demographic data. In other cases it introduced a daypart we had not considered before,” she said.
This is the second year that Carat has subscribed to the fusion study, a collaboration of Nielsen and Kantar Media Research, which produces the Multimedia Audience Research Systems (MARS) study measuring the product and media usage of pharmaceutical consumers. The companies expect to release the third wave of their fusion study based on 2003 data next week and so far still have only one client: Carat.
Competitive Edge?
Other ad shops remain skeptical about the approach, but that’s fine with Carat’s Ms. Power, who believes it is giving Pfizer a competitive edge in the marketplace. What surprises her, she said, is that nobody in the TV industry has yet subscribed, if only to understand the kind of shifts Pfizer is making in its TV strategy.
Carat is preparing to use the new 2003 data to fine-tune the brand allocation of its upfront TV buys for Pfizer based on specific programs for specific ailments. While the overall change may be moderate, the impact for specific ailments, brands and TV shows can be profound.
During an Advertising Research Foundation conference last fall, influential media guru Erwin Ephron unveiled his own assessment of the Nielsen/MARS fusion and said it could yield changes in advertising budgets by as much as 25 percent.
Ms. Power acknowledged the ranges are that significant for certain brands butwould not specify which. MARS managing director Hugh White said the biggest impact is for ailments and brands that are not “completely demographically driven.”
For example, ailments such as migraine headaches and acid reflux that cut across age groups and gender types tend to have the most dramatic shifts based on the fusion data. By contrast, a disease such as osteoporosis that typically affects older people, especially women, tends to follow Nielsen demographic breaks more closely.
Given the potential impact of this research, Mr. White said he’s also surprised no TV companies have begun using it, though he said he is close to signing one subscriber from the TV industry.
“When you look at this data, all kind of interesting things turn up for the TV industry,” he said. “For example, when we looked at people who are depressed, the Pax Network pops up. That’s not the kind of thing most people would think about, but it makes sense given the type of uplifting and inspirational programming they air.” He said the data also seem to dispel other TV advertising perceptions, such as the notion that older-skewing shows and networks are necessarily a good skew for drug products. “The older networks tend to do very well with the big pharmas, but when you come to an ailment like asthma that has less to do with age, older networks may not be the best place to advertise,” Mr. White said.
As for the rest of Madison Avenue, there appears to be a wait-and-see attitude on fusion in general and the Nielsen/MARS study in particular. Even though the research approach promises great breakthroughs in targeting, a Carat competitor said he’s still not convinced the data is strong enough to make multimillion-dollar media buying changes based on the results.
“First and foremost, the fusion has to be a good fusion,” said Tony Jarvis, senior VP and director of consumer insights at MediaCom Worldwide, which also represents big pharmaceutical advertisers. Toward that end, he said, “Stay tuned.”