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By Published on .

Touting medical studies and health news in drug ads is in vogue again as older brands seek differentiation in competitive categories.

Bayer Corp. has hammered its heart attack prevention message for its flagship aspirin brand and SmithKline Beecham's Tums has pushed the benefits of calcium for osteoperosis and pregnant women.

Such efforts are useful if a product is the first to seize a benefit, say industry experts.


"Every medicine requires a medical issue," said Mark Schwatka, exec VP-creative director for healthcare at Grey Advertising, New York. "Older brands particularly need a news issue. It's not a new phenomenon, but the drug wars have heated this up again."

Last week, a report was issued by the Institute of Medicine, a branch of the National Academy of Sciences, putting forth new guidelines on increased daily calcium requirements. And that will appear soon in new Tums TV spots.

"People are so conscious of their own health and becoming more involved," said Pat McGrath, president of Jordan, McGrath, Case & Taylor, New York, the Tums agency. "It's all part of a massive change of the concept of healthcare in this country."

New TV spots for American Home Products Corp.'s Centrum from Carrafiello-Diehl & Associates, Irvington, N.Y., note the vitamin brand contains folic acid, which "may help reduce homocystine levels in the blood, an emerging risk factor for heart attacks."

McNeil Consumer Products Co., recently recommended Tylenol for pain to those on aspirin to prevent a second heart attack. The spot is from Saatchi & Saatchi's Healthcare Connection.


"With so much prescription advertising going on, it can also help legitimize OTC drugs," said Paul Kelly, president of Silvermine Consulting.

Yet, industry observers said employing news is a difficult strategy. Frequently, medical news is used in a negative fashion to draw consumer attention to undesirable side effects of competing brands. That happened in the spring 1996 ad wars between Tylenol and American Home's Advil.

"If a brand is a leader, consumers get confused on why they're capturing negative indications for other brands," said Chet Kane, president of Kane, Bortree & Associates consultancy.


In June, a Food & Drug Administration committee concluded phenolphthalein-an ingredient in Novartis' Ex-lax-may pose a risk of cancer.

The finding was immediately published in newspaper ads from Messner Vetere Berger McNamee Schmetterer/Euro RSCG, New York, for Schering-Plough Corp.'s competing Correctol brand.

And when the FDA moved to remove Hoechst Marion Roussel's prescription allergy drug Seldane from the market after Allegra was approved as an alternative, Schering tried to leverage the situation in newspaper ads for Claritin.

While most executives agree such ads are not helpful to the industry, Mr. Schwatka noted: "Somehow, people aren't coming away from those ads and putting them down like underarm deodorant ads. They learn something and it takes it to another realm."

Still, he added, "You need to bring serious news forward, but there has to be a

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