It’s Where the Patients Are

“Why do you rob banks, Willie?” “Because that’s where the money is.”


The above is an exchange that purportedly occurred between a reporter and an infamous bank robber, William Francis “Willie” Sutton.  For those of you who have never heard of him, Willie Sutton was an American best known for his years as a professional criminal who robbed more than 50 banks during a period spanning the 1920s through the 1930s.

I think the reporter probably intended his “Why do you rob banks?” query to be philosophical i.e. he wanted to know what caused Sutton to turn to a life of crime when other people, who were also toiling to get through the Great Depression, did not.  Sutton, however, apparently took the question to mean why he chose banks instead of other places like country stores or homes or barber shops.

Banks brought in the biggest payoff; he didn’t waste his efforts on other locations.

Willie Sutton was unquestionably a no-good criminal, and deserved every moment he ended up spending in prison.  But you have to hand it to him – his approach to his “profession” was very straightforward, which is probably why he managed to be so accomplished at it over the years.  In fact, “Sutton’s Law”  has even made its way into the corporate strategy and medical worlds, defined by the notion of focusing energy on the most efficient and effective approaches rather exhausting resources on those that might yield lesser results.

Applying Sutton’s Law to Pharma Marketing

Why should pharma brands include the pharmacy in their media plans? Because it’s where the patients are.

Pharma marketers could think about Sutton’s Law when they develop their direct to consumer communication plans.  Messages need to be delivered where they can go most directly to the intended audience.   Increasingly, that’s in the pharmacy, where millions of current patients, prospective patients, and caregivers pass through the doors every day. According to company fact sheets, Walgreens and CVS respectively serve 5.9 million and 5 million customers daily across their stores nationwide. Food store pharmacies, too, attract significant consumer traffic to their OTC and personal care sections.  Kroger pharmacists alone filled almost 182 million prescriptions last year.

People visit the pharmacy aisles for a reason, and that reason is often related to health.  They’re not distractedly flipping through the pages of celebrity news, talking to a fellow TV-watcher in the family room, cooking dinner while watching a screen out of the corner of their eye, fast-forwarding, or multi-tasking.  Instead, they are searching for remedies for themselves or loved ones, looking for information, taking advantage of wellness services, picking up a prescription, or talking to a pharmacist.  They are in what we refer to as the Mindset Moment™, and that’s a great point in time to convey details about prescription products and to raise awareness about certain conditions.

Regardless of the type of drug – traditional or specialty − when marketers are choosing consumer media vehicles, they look for the size and quality of the audience reached, effective targeting, cost efficiency, and the ability to measure program impact.  The pharmacy delivers on all these criteria.

It’s also “where the patients are”.