Big Pharma keeps its New Year's resolution

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My task: Watch the evening news to see if ads from pharma companies comply with Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America guidelines, which went into effect Jan. 1. The real test: Struggling through a barrage of pharma clutter and uninspired creative executions.

Don't let anybody-not Big Pharma, the networks, media buyers or your Aunt Sally-tell you drug makers don't advertise that much any more on the evening news. Spread among the CBS, NBC and ABC broadcasts were no less than 17 pharmaceutical spots, and I'm sure I missed a couple while flipping channels.

Hat trick

What I didn't miss was the fact that Merck's Singulair had a hat trick, advertising the same 30-second commercial on three different networks during the half-hour window between 6:30 and 7 p.m. EST. There were also ads for Flonase, Lunesta, Accu-Chek, Restasis and Vytorin, to name a few. It was easier to count the spots that weren't for drugs.

Are they compliant? So far, so good.

Drug makers appear to be abiding by the 15-point code of conduct with very few exceptions. One exception: None of the ads conformed to Guideline No. 15: Companies are encouraged to include information in all DTC advertising, where feasible, about help for the uninsured and underinsured.

Also, some of the 15-second spots were not able to adhere to Guideline No. 4: DTC TV and print advertising of prescription drugs should clearly indicate that the medicine is a prescription drug.

Communicating risks

But that's nitpicking.

Where pharma stood out was in complying with the more important aspects of the guidelines that dealt with communicating risk benefits. Allergan's spot for Restasis, its medication for chronic dry eye, clearly stated when the product should be used and what the risks were.

The 45- and 60-second spots for Lunesta, Sepracor's sleep medication, also were succinct in discussing the risks of taking sleeping pills.

A couple of interesting final notes. At one point during NBC's "Nightly News" there was a short story about two studies on statins, or cholesterol-fighting drugs, where the findings showed no indications that the drugs can also fight cancer. This at almost the same time that an ad for cholesterol drug Vytorin appeared on ABC.

Of course, when I went to NBC's Web site to watch the "Nightly News" and re-check notes on that story, there was a 60-second ad prior to the Netcast-for Pfizer.

You just can't escape it.

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