Can Your Advertising Create Demand?

Advertising can take demand and drive it to your business. As a general rule, it won’t create demand where none exists. If people aren’t experiencing the problem you exist to solve, advertising won’t suddenly create that problem for them.

But there’s one exception — advertising may change the consumer’s perception of their situation. They may have been content with things, or may not have been aware that what they’re experiencing was unusual, or solveable. In that case, an ad campaign can create demand.

Deborah Brody’s blog tipped me off to an interesting story from the world of pharmaceuticals. According to MSNBC, GlaxoSmithKline managed to create a near-epidemic of restless leg syndrome by launching a campaign for a drug called Requip. Thousands of patients who either never realized they had a problem, or never thought there could be a solution, headed for their doctor’s offices after seeing the Requip ad on television.

“Restless legs syndrome is a great example of a suddenly out-of-the-blue disease,” said Dr. Christopher J. Earley, an associate professor of neurology at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore who treats the disorder.

Advertising created an overheated demand for diagnosis among consumers, while easy-to-dispense drug samples provided a convenient response for busy doctors, he said.

Now, however, the first generics are going on the market, so Glaxo has pulled the campaign. Some experts are predicting a decline in the reported prevalence of the disorder. Advertising giveth, and advertising taketh away.

Here in Portland, a local roofing company has created a market for roof inspections. Roof Life of Oregon has been running a radio campaign recommending a roof inspection every five years. Until now, most homeowners wouldn’t think about their roof until a problem made itself evident. Roof Life has managed to convince them to allow the company to “look under the hood” on a regular basis. This brings in some inspection revenue, establishing a regular relationship with the homeowner, and increases the chances of getting the job when replacement becomes necessary.

Can you get your prospects to recognize a problem they didn’t know they had?


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5 thoughts on “Can Your Advertising Create Demand?

  1. I find instances of creating an otherwise unknown condition both fascinating and disappointing. In the instance of matters of health, like Restless Leg Syndrome, it’s more like disgusting. Yes, the consumer has a responsibility to not get duped into the latest snake oil, but there has to be a little more owness by Big Pharma companies to not use their power to so liberally exploit us. You’d think the FDA should be able to catch this kind of thing, but I truly believe their primary concern is to enable Big Pharma companies.

  2. Brett,

    I’m not sure anyone’s claiming that Restless Leg was an invention of pharmaceutical advertising. The syndrome is apparently real — what the advertising did was to either make actual sufferers aware of a solution to the problem, or make people who thought their condition was normal decide that they had a problem.

    The second group is a little more bothersome, of course. Some of them may have genuinely benefited from the medication, while in other cases the docs might have written a prescription because it was easier than trying to convince their patients otherwise.

    I suspect that Big Pharma is somewhere between good and evil in this. The drug did some good for some people, and the advertising probably helped a group of people find a way to alleviate suffering. It also probably sold some of the stuff to folks who didn’t need it.

  3. Phil, first a disclaimer. I’m the guy who developed the Rooflife of Oregon website and blog and I help with the radio strategy.

    In my hundreds of hours of time with Patrick Morin, we never discussed the concept of creating demand. We always discussed the fact that roofs in Portland need attention at least every 5 years or they will fail.

    The campaign doesn’t create any inspection revenue because the inspections are free. (Unless you are using it for a pending real estate sale…a different kind of inspection/report.)

    Yes, the inspections often turn up minor problems that require attention, and sometimes result in roof replacement. But, the goal is always to help people get more serviceable life from their Portland roofs.

    I’m in the same business as you (an advertising consultant) and I’ve never, ever worked with a business owner that is as dedicated to providing outstanding service as is Patrick. He’s the real deal.

    Portland has a lot of transplants who have never had to deal with loads of rain, moss and all of the beautiful trees. You simply can’t take your roof for granted the way you can in the Midwest.

    We view our campaign as educational. We’re not trying to create demand, and we would never compare our strategy to the drug hucksters. The problems we talk about on our blog are real and they are evident all over Portland. My wife laughs at me because after I spent a week with Patrick, I notice problems on people’s rooftops as I drive down the street. Yes, some are that obvious, especially in the Pacific Northwest. It costs a lot less to fix a minor roofing problem than a combination roofing failure/sheetrock/furniture disaster. That’s a pro-consumer stance, not a demand-creation strategy.

  4. Dave,

    Thanks for your comment. I did not mean to imply that Roof Life’s strategy was in any way unethical.

    And I’m embarrassed at my reference to “inspection revenue”, since Roof Life actually inspected my roof a few years ago. The inspection was free; the guy who performed it told us our roof was fine, and charged us nothing.

    As you point out, many homeowners will benefit from a roof inspection, by catching small-to-medium problems before they become large-to-catastrophic.

    Having said that, I still believe that the campaign is creating demand, even if that is not the intent.

    Most homeowners wouldn’t think to have their roof inspected unless somebody reminded them to. Roof Life’s campaign serves as a very effective reminder. If the advertising were to stop, the number of inspections would likely plummet as the idea dropped off of consumers’ radar screens.

    There are two beneficiaries to the campaign — the consumer, and Roof Life. If the inspection uncovers a problem, Patrick’s company will likely be the one to perform the repair. If the roof is fine, it won’t be fine forever, and Roof Life has established a relationship with the homeowner — along with a reputation for honesty.

    They’ve got an excellent shot at doing the replacement whenever it does become necessary.

    So the consumer wins, and Patrick wins. Which is the mark of a good, smart marketing campaign.