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Radio and outdoor advertising, often considered forgotten media, continue to be left out of most direct-to-consumer prescription drug media plans as agencies figure out which medium sends the most effective message.

Radio and outdoor advertising are on the fringe for a marketing category that launched in print and continues to concentrate most of its spending there. Last August's relaxation of broadcast guidelines by the Food & Drug Administration opened a surge of TV spending, but not for radio. And any spending on outdoor ads continues to be reserved for shelter sites and some transit, where consumers can read the required disclosures.


By November, outdoor hit just under $2 million in DTC media while network and national spot radio combined did a little better, reaching $7.2 million in spending. Schering-Plough Corp.'s Claritin made up $4.7 million of radio's take -- all of it on network. A late breaking campaign behind Glaxo Wellcome's anti-smoking pill, Zyban, launched late in the year, may have bumped outdoor's 1997 total closer to $5 million.

But that spending is dwarfed in a nearly $1 billion media market.

"There probably is an opportunity for moderate growth in this arena," concedes Diane Cimine, chief marketing officer at the Outdoor Advertising Association of America, who calls current spending "a hill of beans."


The OAAA has been unable to lobby for rule changes in the medium, she says, because it is focusing its resources on the government's assault on tobacco advertising.

As a result of the lack of other entrants, she says, "DTC advertisers stand an excellent chance of branding themselves in this medium now -- they'd be well ahead of their competition."

Glaxo Wellcome -- the No. 1 ad spender in the DTC prescription drug category -- rolled out Zyban last year with an estimated $4 million out-of-home branding campaign in the top 30 markets, along with heavy spending on TV and in print. The ads, consistent with old FDA rules, mentioned just the brand without saying what it was for -- eliminating the need to include disclosures.


"Putting [patient information] with the brand complicates things outdoor unless you want to go with a reminder ad," says Rick Gleber, director of DTC marketing at Glaxo. "Because we were spending so heavily elsewhere, we could just build awareness of the brand name. We wouldn't do that without a well-rounded campaign."

Glaxo wanted to target people in places where they couldn't smoke -- thus the ads appeared on the sides of buses, in airports and shopping malls -- but still sought a relatively large audience. The campaign, estimated at $55 million total, is from FCB Healthcare, New York.

Zyban needed a mass approach but many drugs are for more specific populations: A targeted effort can be an effective use of outdoor advertising.

"We know people tend to cluster together," says Dave Mulryan, president of Mulryan/Nash Advertising, New York. "For menopause products you could go into Florida retirement villages, for HIV and diabetes into urban areas. Outdoor companies really need to make the case for audience clusters."


In fact, Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. began running a targeted outdoor effort for its HIV treatment Zerit last July. Its agency for the campaign, Robert A. Becker Euro RSCG's Consumer Health division, New York, found "to no one's surprise" that two-thirds of HIV cases were in the top 21 markets. The agency wanted to reach primarily gay and ethnic populations and also ran print ads in major market newspapers and gay magazines.

"The markets with the highest number of cases also had a high ethnic population and one of our choices to reach them was radio, but the regulations did not make it viable," says Joe Holmes, DTC-planning at Becker. "So we went with urban outdoor but the `brief summary' eliminates anything moving [buses], highways and the tops of subways stairs. Just the sidewalk side was usable."

The agency targeted media spots located outside medical clinics that treat AIDS, gay neighborhoods, Harlem and The Bronx, as well as Spanish-language versions in Miami and Spanish Harlem in New York. Los Angeles is the next potential outdoor market and Mr. Holmes says that TV and radio efforts are under consideration.

Few other DTC marketers have figured out how to use outdoor or radio to meet their needs in today's changing regulatory environment. The task of meeting FDA guidelines by including major-risk statements without frightening consumers is daunting to advertisers. The concept is considered much more difficult on radio because advertisers can't add a visual to soften the message.


Nonetheless, Stuart Yaguda, president of Interep Radio Store's business development arm Radio 2000, remains optimistic and says he expects advertisers to triple their current spending for 1998.

Mr. Yaguda says for the period from September to November, radio comprised 9.3% of all DTC prescription drug broadcast advertising.

"We're still pacing better than normally," notes Mr. Yaguda, since radio usually has about 7% of the media pie in general. Like outdoor, he touts radio's ability to target audiences, markets and to reach people at work.

"You can get into more relevant environments," says Mr. Yaguda. "If you're an allergy drug, pollen counts are not kicking in at the same times for Burlington, Vt., and Miami, Fla."

Still, it may be a while before the forgotten media make a more respectable showing in DTC spending.

"This is all new," says Mr. Gleber. "Print was the easiest and now the main emphasis will be on TV until people figure it all out -- then other media will come later."

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