Simplicity Brings Success for Merck-Medco Mailer

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Prescription benefit provider Merck-Medco took the no-flash approach in a direct mail campaign to promote the use of generic medicines. The campaign is enjoying a more than 20 percent response rate among doctors.


Merck-Medco is encouraging the use of generic drugs by doctors in its coverage area by offering them mail-order samples through a direct marketing campaign known as Generics First.


Each mailer, sent in a standard window envelope, contained a request form, a reply envelope and a short letter on 8.5-inch-by-11-inch paper from a Merck-Medco vice president detailing the program and providing instructions. Merck-Medco, a subsidiary of pharmaceutical giant Merck, Whitehouse Station, NJ, sent mailers to about 5,400 doctors in January.


The company's aim was to encourage doctors to prescribe cheaper generic drugs instead of branded drugs, which are more expensive to provide to prescription plan members. Doctors were offered free samples of generic medicines for use in their practices.


The campaign exceeded the company's expectation that 10 percent of doctors targeted in the campaign would request samples. The overall number of sample requests totaled more than 100,000.


Frank Corso, account director at Synavant, Atlanta, the firm that ran the campaign and fulfilled the sample requests, acknowledged that the mailer is "not a major creative piece." Doctors tend to ignore gimmicks and focus more on the value a mailer provides them in information or services, in this case free samples. The designers did not waste time or resources on flashy graphics with the mailers, he said. However, the window envelope contained an attempt to attract doctors' attention with the words "New Issue: Free samples of common generic medication."


One of the major inspirations for the mailer was another Synavant direct mail program, Single Source Sampling. That program offers samples of brand-name drugs to doctors via direct mail, Corso said.


Many of the doctors who received the Merck-Medco mailers were familiar with the Single Source format, a regular direct mail program with average response rates of about 50 percent, Corso said.


"Over the years, the doctors have gotten comfortable with that," Corso said.


Synavant also took pains to simplify the sample request form. Each form is personalized to the individual doctor, and all the information physicians are required by law to provide is printed on the form. Doctors need only to check the boxes of the samples they want and sign the form, Corso said.


On the request form, information about the drug samples available is encapsulated in 1.5-inch-by-2-inch boxes for easy reading. Information about each drug is presented in the same format to make it easier for doctors to compare the products.


The campaign targeted doctors according to the number of patients in their care who were covered by Merck-Medco and by their prescription tendencies. It also focused on doctors in group practices with the hope that the doctors would tell their colleagues about the program. The doctors were identified through Merck-Medco's internal database and claims histories.


Only four categories of drug samples were available in the January drop: anti-hypertensives, gastrointestinal, antibiotics and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. Other categories of sample drugs may be made available in future drops, said Chris Bradbury, Merck-Medco senior director of physician programs.


Merck-Medco is awaiting the results of another 5,800 Generics First mailers that were dropped April 2. The company plans to drop mailers as part of the program every other month or so, Corso said.


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