When the Food & Drug Administration relaxed its rules for prescription drug ads on TV in August, Glaxo Wellcome was ahead of the pack. Under the marketing stewardship of VP-General Manager of Marketing Andrew Witty, the company was first out of the gate with an estimated $10 million network TV buy for its antiviral Valtrex that mentioned both the drug's name and herpes, the condition.
The spot also led viewers to print ads for full disclosure information.
SWIFT TO ACT
Glaxo's swiftness was born of experience with DTC advertising and close contact with the FDA prior to the new rules.
"We started experimenting with DTC early and made a relationship with the rulemakers," says Mr. Witty.
Indeed, Glaxo has been the top advertiser in DTC prescription drug advertising-a business expected to hit $1 billion this year-for two years running. Last year alone, Glaxo's nasal spray Flonase received $32.7 million in support, migraine remedy Imitrex got $20.4 million, Serevent asthma inhaler had $16.4 million.
Mr. Witty also is adding more product firepower this year with Glaxo's new anti-smoking pill Zyban getting an estimated $55 million in support (the brand is even getting TV teaser ads prior to its launch). Zithromax, the first antibiotic to receive DTC support, will get an estimated $15 million.
"Patients are demanding more information," says Mr. Witty, 33. He notes that "one of the key challenges is getting patients to seek help and that's where DTC comes in. Sometimes people need news, a sense of hope or courage-like with genital herpes-to go to their doctor."
ADS TO LEARN FROM
Mr. Witty explained that consumers may not be actively visiting their physician for a chronic problem like migraines, so when new drugs come along, they must find out about them through advertising.
Despite the DTC spending strength of some brands, he says not all drugs are appropriate for the approach.
"This is by no means one-size-fits-all; the effectiveness of DTC varies by geography and disease area," he says.
He adds that "while there is likely to be more investment in TV-obviously it's a dramatic medium-some products simply do better in other media."
As over-the-counter pain reliever Excedrin from Bristol-Myers Squibb awaits final FDA approval to add claims for migraine treatment, it seems conceivable that Imitrex and other prescription drugs could come into advertising conflict with OTCs.
"I don't see anybody trying to compete with OTC-we're not going into that kind of situation," says Mr. Witty, who expects the FDA would not allow such comparative ad efforts. "It will continue to be difficult to get into comparative advertising and would require investment in expensive clinical data through the long process of clinical trials to support it."
Yet, drug ad wars are not uncommon, as Johnson & Johnson's Tylenol and American Home Products' Advil duked it out over side effects and Schering-Plough Corp.'s prescription allergy drug Claritin tried to leverage in ads the FDA's unprecedented step of trying to remove Hoechst Marion Roussel's competitive Seldane from the market.
Still, Mr. Witty raises the specter of non-prescription products taking the