LEADING NATIONAL ADVERTISERS: DRUG CATEGORY FEASTS ON DIRECT-TO-CONSUMER: RELAXED RULES MAKE IT EASIER TO GAIN RX AWARENESS

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Direct-to-consumer ad spending for prescription drugs-up 90% to $595.5 million in 1996-delivered substantial share growth for many brands previously obscure or in hugely competitive categories.

Osteoporosis treatment Fosamax rocketed 40 share points to 71% of the market after Merck & Co. invested $28.4 million in the brand's DTC ads last year, and Merck's Zocor cholesterol treatment rose 11 points from a new $40.7 million ad budget.

The strength of growth behind these and other brands has justified going into the more difficult and expensive TV medium. The Food & Drug Admininstration made the prospect more attractive this summer by easing restrictions.

New guidelines allow brand and condition together, provided that major interactive effects are explained and direct consumers to supporting print campaigns and Web sites for more information.

DATA HEAVY

Print ads must continue to carry conditions in non-consumer-friendly language to comply with decades-old rules originally devised for ads to doctors and pharmacists.

Schering-Plough Corp. was among the first to seize the opportunity of TV, investing heavily in the medium in '96 in support of antihistamine Claritin, but ad content was hobbled by then FDA rules that left Claritin merely branding itself without identifying its use.

Once the FDA widened its TV guidelines, Schering still stumbled. It was forced to modify a Claritin ad using hot air balloon imagery out of FDA concern that the spot inadequately explained side effects and the message steering consumers to print ads was hard to see.

Claritin's overall ad spending for the year doubled to $56.2 million, helping it wrest an expensive eight-point share gain among antihistamines, by far the largest DTC ad category.

Schering's heavy spending on Claritin brought others in the category to the media table. When Hoechst Marion Roussel's once powerful but troubled Seldane brand got a replacement called Allegra, Hoechst quickly took to consumer media channels.

Allegra, its ads showing a sleek image of a woman wind surfing through a field of wheat, hit TV and print with $19.7 million, all in second-half '96. The ads apparently worked too well; consumers figured out the product treats allergies, which concerned the FDA. The spot was removed.

But such cat-and-mouse dallying is what forced a review of the FDA's 28-year-old guidelines never meant to address consumer advertising.

PUSH OR FALL BACK

When Pfizer went DTC with its allergy product Zyrtec, it had to push the brand hard or be left behind in a category dominated by Claritin, advertised to consumers since third quarter '93. Zyrtec is head-to-head with Allegra for No. 2 in the category.

This August, Pfizer expanded Zyrtec into the children's market. Parents were targeted with ads about the children's banana-grape flavor. The ad was an extension of the "Big allergies" campaign supporting the adult product.

Steroidal nasal products also have targeted consumer media, led by Glaxo Wellcome's Flonase with $32.7 million in 1996.

Emotional messages are the approach of choice in the cholesterol-reduction category, with Merck's Zocor leading the way in sales and advertising, the latter totaling $40.7 million in '96. Ads showed a birthday cake with the tagline, "It's your future. Be there."

Similar ads for Bristol-Myers Squibb Co.'s Pravachol pictured birthday cards with the message, "You'd give your life for them. But that's not what they

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