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Drug marketers will have an 18-month probationary period before the Food & Drug Adminstration reviews its new guidelines for prescription drug TV advertising, but everyone wants to know how changes are working in the meantime.

While FDA may revise those guidelines after evaluating market research, it has no plans to commission any studies of its own. However, it has asked for research submissions from ad agencies, marketers and the media.


"It's not out of the question that the FDA will be conducting its own study in the future but right now we haven't commissioned one," says FDA spokesman Brad Stone. "We are always interested, though, in looking at data from whatever outside source."

Such a request is a far cry from 1988, when Rep. John Dingell (D., Mich.), chairman of the House Commerce Committee, and Rep. Henry Waxman (D., Calif.), chairman of the health and environment subcommittee, told the newly formed Prescription Drug Advertising Coalition that they objected to all TV commercials for drugs.

Last year, Prevention conducted a study on the effectiveness of direct-to-consumer advertising. Eager for information, FDA made a public request for research in the Federal Register, and Prevention is responding by analyzing DTC ads again this year. The study started early this month.


Ed Slaughter, director of market research at Prevention, says the main thrust of his magazine's analysis this year will not be media specific, but whether or not DTC advertising in general helps consumers make better decisions -- a question for which the government especially seeks an answer. He expects that with the new FDA guidelines, the stats for TV will increase.

The 1997 survey found 63% of consumers recalled seeing a DTC ad and, of those consumers, slightly less recalled seeing a commercial on TV, 60%. Not surprisingly, the number of people who thought the TV spots were clear and useful then was slightly lower than the number who had seen ads in magazines or newspapers (58% compared with 59% and 71%, respectively).

One of the top things marketers want to know is if their multimillion-dollar investments are worthwhile. CBS is in talks right now with several pharmaceutical companies to examine how well TV works for DTC advertising.

Details of the study will be finalized by mid-year.

FDA, drug companies and ad agencies all want to know many of the same things. Going further: Do TV spots -- particularly unbranded ones -- help consumers make better-educated decisions or make them more confused? For branded campaigns, could there be a downside to providing viewers with drugs' major health risks?

"If half the commercial is devoted to side affects," says Steve Fleischmann, VP-business development at researcher Market Measures, "it may scare people."


A Market Measures study conducted last month found consumer recall of TV DTC advertising was lower than magazine DTC ads across the board. Even with high levels of exposure to an ad, the group found 86% of consumers will not contact their physicians after seeing a DTC ad.

Omnicom Group-owned Health Medical Consumer Advertising & Marketing, New York, recently conducted a study in which a majority of U.S. consumers said ads for embarrassing conditions, like venereal disease and enlarged prostates, are appropriate for TV.

More surveys are on the way. By summer, Apco Associates, a public affairs consultancy, will be running its own study on DTC advertising focusing on the public health impact with experts from Georgetown University.

Also planned for 1999 is a study from the American Association of Advertising Agencies, conducted with the Coalition for Healthcare Communication.

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