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The Food & Drug Administration intends to issue final rules for direct-to-consumer prescription drug commercials by the end of summer and revise print DTC ad rules by yearend.

The rules will follow two new surveys that show consumers approve of and are paying attention to the prescription drug ads on TV.

Direct-to consumer pharmaceutical spending on TV has risen dramatically since the FDA last August issued an exploratory guidance allowing more practical commercials that both name the product and the condition it is used to treat. TV spending for the first quarter hit $93.29 million, more than triple the $26.43 million of the same period in 1997, according to Competitive Media Reporting. TV accounted for nearly half the period's $210.9 million in DTC prescription advertising, while print ad spending fell 37% to $114.28 million.


The FDA and drug marketers alike have sought a road map for the emerging DTC Rx business -- $1 billion in branded and unbranded advertising last year, according to CMR -- and the information from the studies looks to be having a strong influence on the FDA's rulemaking. One was conducted by Prevention and the other jointly by Time, Health and Hippocrates.

The FDA worked closely with Prevention on its survey, after the magazine's 1997 poll dealing with both over-the-counter and Rx advertising impressed the agency.

"The FDA really was most interested in surveying the quality of communications to consumers and the issue of trivializing medicine's safety," said Ed Slaughter, director of research at Prevention.


The full study, conducted in April by Princeton Survey Research, will be released by the end of July; Advertising Age got a preview of the top-line results.

"The overall feeling is that consumers are for DTC and like the information," Mr. Slaughter said.

"They see it as letting them take care of themselves. But they also understand they are dealing in an area where they are not necessarily well-informed and see the risks," Mr. Slaughter said

Despite efforts by ad agencies, magazines and others to cut back on DTC disclosure information, the phone survey found consumers claim not only to be interested in the side effects data but that they may want more.

A majority of respondents, 36%, rated TV ads as "only fair" at communicating "annoying but not serious side effects," and a 32% majority said the same for "serious warnings about the product."

Surprisingly, magazine ads, which have lengthy disclosures, fared worse. For "not serious" effects, a 38% majority said magazines were "only fair" and a 33% majority said the same for "serious warnings."


Both magazine and TV ads were rated "good" for communicating prescription drug benefits.

"Print may be slightly better, but neither is doing a stellar job at communication," Mr. Slaughter said, emphasizing "this is a brand new form of advertising. Like a spare tire, people want the information even though it doesn't mean they'll use it."

Respondents ranked doctors and pharmacists nearly equally as the most trusted for drug information, followed by friends/family and books. There was not a large trust difference among consumers between TV programs about drugs and DTC advertising in general. This information was echoed in the Time group survey.


Broadcast DTC ad references to toll-free numbers, specific magazines and the Internet for more information earned low consumer response usage rates of 9%, 10% and 10%, respectively, the Prevention survey found.

However, 33% did say they asked their doctors about advertised medications. Of that group, 28% asked their doctors to prescribe the drug, while 70% just talked to their doctors about it.

Three prescription drugs recorded significantly higher consumer awareness among 11 advertised brands polled: Schering-Plough Corp.'s Claritin, Hoechst Marion Roussel's Allegra and Eli Lilly & Co.'s Prozac.


However, among those suffering from the conditions those products treat, there was low consumer awareness that the specific drug brand treated that condition.

Time's study, conducted in March and April, sought distinctions between media for consumer awareness and action on DTC, finding TV created 65% awareness and 31% action compared with 41% awareness and 41% action in magazines. Also, 58% of respondents said magazines were the "most appropriate medium for pharmaceutical advertising" vs. 27% for TV.

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