FDA Urged To Bolster Print DTC Drug Ads

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The Newspaper Association of America and the Magazine Publishers of America teamed last week to urge the Food & Drug Administration to spell out more complete direct-to-consumer drug ad guidelines that would help defend print media against encroachments by TV.

During a meeting Jan. 7, the groups argued that advertising the "brief summary" disclosure alone-without the accompanying display ad-should not fulfill FDA balance requirements to be on TV.

A BALANCE OF ADS SOUGHT

Washington attorney Nancy Buc, who represented both groups, said print media buys should be in balance with broadcast buys to satisfy FDA's guidelines.

The MPA and NAA cited two specific pharmaceutical offenders-one that bought broadcast time with wide reach but made only a small print buy and another that had a TV campaign supported in print by just a brief summary ad.

The groups declined to publicly name the pharmaceutical marketers for fear of losing their ad dollars.

The presentation echoed similar questions at a recent meeting of the Association of National Advertisers and underscored comments submitted by MPA and NAA to the FDA in mid-October.

`BRIEF SUMMARY TAX'

In the comments obtained by Advertising Age, the MPA and NAA said current DTC guidelines make print "subject to a `brief summary tax' that advertisers can avoid by using broadcast media."

The groups also are asking FDA to abandon its suggestion that distribution of brochures in libraries and other places could be an alternative to print ads.

While the FDA has given no indication of when it will act, another meeting is planned for Feb. 26.

The groups' effort also continued to seek improvement on the brief summary.

Brief summaries "don't serve the reader; advertisers don't want to pay for them; and we don't like to take them because they look terrible and we don't even know if anyone's reading them," said one publisher.

The FDA is still seeking data exploring the effect of DTC ads in the marketplace and will soon begin working with Prevention on a spring study, to be conducted by researcher Princeton Associates. It's a follow-up to a survey the magazine and the American Pharmaceutical Association issued late last year.

"The FDA was really impressed with our study last year and contacted us," said Ken Wallace, Prevention publisher. "They have questions they want asked of consumers."

DTC PRINT ADS INCREASE

Despite the industry's efforts, some admit that things continue to look good for print even with the incursion of TV.

"I was quite worried a year ago, but companies are just having bigger budgets," said Michael Brownstein, Ladies' Home Journal publisher, who noted a 30-page increase in DTC ads in 1997-to 162 for LHJ-and a 191 page increase overall for Seven Sisters titles.

Magazine revenues from prescription drug ads increased 27.8% over the previous year, to $472.5 million, for the year through September and newspapers' smaller figure shot up 171% to $79.6 million, according to Competitive Media Reporting.

TV also rocketed 113.5% to $107.5 million for the period, while all media reached a total of $664.9 million.

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