Mendoza School of Business

Need a hip, knee replaced? Orthopedics firms marketing directly to consumers

Published: September 5, 2006 / Author: Ed Ronco

WARSAW — From the top of the staircase, we can see Marcy.

She’s standing in the dark at the bottom, grasping the banister, struggling to make it up the stairs.

We hear guitar music, then her voice.

“Here I was, just 58, and I could barely walk,” she says. “The pain in my hip kept me up all night.”

This is the start of a 60-second television commercial from Warsaw-based orthopedics device maker DePuy. As the commercial continues, a doctor tells us about hip replacement surgery, which Marcy had, and we learn where to go for more information about the procedure.

After that, Marcy is shown in the daylight, dancing in her kitchen, walking down stairs, effortlessly getting into a car and strolling along a dock.

“It really wasn’t easy,” she says as the ad ends. “But I’m so glad I didn’t wait.”

It’s called direct-to-consumer marketing, something DePuy and other orthopedics

companies are practicing more and more, and it’s unusual in this industry because surgeons, not patients, typically make the decisions on which products to use.

For competitive reasons, DePuy wouldn’t say how much it’s spending on its direct-to-consumer marketing campaign, which includes TV and print advertisements.The ads never explicitly recommend a DePuy product over competitors’ equivalents, but instead focus more on the issue of orthopedic surgery.

“It’s been a good day for us when a patient that wasn’t even thinking about (surgery) takes that first step forward,” said Scott Zellner, director of U.S. knee marketing for DePuy.

The point, he said, isn’t to get people thinking about a specific brand, but rather to get them thinking about the procedure in general.

Zimmer Holdings is rowing the same boat. The company, also Warsaw-based, is in the middle of spending $10 million on direct-to-consumer marketing between May and the end of April 2007.

About $2 million of that will be spent during 2006. The remainder will be used during the first four months of 2007.Ray Elliott, Zimmer’s chief executive, said the company plans to hit 11 markets with the ad campaign, but details on which 11 aren’t being disclosed until the new year.

Look for Zimmer’s ads to start showing up in October, probably marketing the company’s Gender Solutions knee — an implant Zimmer insists is better designed to replace a female kneecap than standard devices.

But even as it totes its new brand, Zimmer will focus heavily on educating consumers about orthopedic surgery in general, spokesman Brad Bishop said.

Bucking the trend

Biomet spent about $10 million on advertising during the last fiscal year. “This year we are cutting that back,” said Greg Sasso, senior vice president of corporate development and communications at the company’s Warsaw headquarters.

Biomet is taking a more regional approach, sending an as-yet unnamed spokesperson in person to arthritis walks and similar events to talk about Biomet and the benefits of orthopedic surgery, Sasso said.

The company will also continue its print and TV campaigns, but mostly on a regional basis. In other words, don’t expect to see the Biomet name brandishing itself on TV sets across the entire country.

“We will target markets where we know we have good sales representation, and they will go ahead and follow up with the customers,” Sasso said. It could be seen as a big cutback during a time when competitors are ramping up their publicity campaigns.

Why buck the trend?

“Surgeons make the call on what product they use,” Sasso said. “It’s nice to get the awareness out there, but at the end of the day, it’s very difficult to measure whether or not it’s really benefiting you.”

Ads for orthopedic device makers — no matter what the brand — tend to benefit all companies evenly, Sasso said.

“When that patient goes in and sees the surgeon, that surgeon is going to use whatever product that surgeon has been trained on and is comfortable with,” he said. Why bother?

So if it’s the surgeon, not the consumer, who usually picks which company’s product is used, why spend all that money on advertising?

“The obvious marketing answer is to get their brand name in the consumer’s mind,” said Patrick E. Murphy, professor of marketing at the University of Notre Dame’s Mendoza College of Business.

Murphy is also co-director of Notre Dame’s Institute for Ethical Business Worldwide.

But is it really branding when none of the commercials explicitly ask people to buy a certain company’s knee or hip product?”I’d say it’s a more subtle approach to dealing with the consumer,” Murphy said. “But if they’re Zimmer (for example), and they’re the leader of the market, they know that they’re going to get 40 percent or whatever their market share is.”

In other words, for the big companies, promoting the market in general will eventually be in their best interest.

“But,” Murphy said, “not beating the consumer over the head with it is a pretty wise marketing and ethical move.”



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