SAATCHI PLANS TO STUDY VALUE OF RX ADS ON TV: AGENCY, NETWORK TO ANALYZE WHAT HAS BECOME $80 MIL-PLUS MEDIUM

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Saatchi & Saatchi Worldwide is close to a deal with an undisclosed TV network to study the effectiveness and value of direct-to-consumer prescription drug advertising on TV.

That's a question pharmaceutical marketers increasingly are asking with the governmental loosening of restrictions for ads on the medium. The Food & Drug Administration also has asked ad agencies to "collect relevant data and make their findings known" to the FDA.

STARTING EARLY NEXT YEAR

The research agreement may be finalized by next week, with the project under way in early 1998. Nationwide interviews are to be conducted before and after new DTC ad campaigns.

"It's the biggest question that's dogged me since I've been in DTC," said Frank Hone, exec VP-management director at agency Rubin Ehrenthal & Associates, New York.

Spending behind prescription drugs in measured media increased 50%, to $562.7 million, for the year through August, according to Competitive Media Reporting. TV spending jumped 91%, to $84.3 million during that period, in part reflecting activity in August. The Food & Drug Administration relaxed rules on DTC TV advertising early that month.

Such interest in TV is fueled by being able to "reach a huge number of people quickly and [men] are not that easy to reach in print," said Rebecca Sroge, director of direct and interactive at Klemtner Healthcare, a Saatchi & Saatchi unit.

At the same time, some ad executives said they expect next year to see new efforts to localize messages, opening up event sponsorships and promotion through specialty physicians -- similar to doctors who offered American Home Products Corp.'s weight-loss drug Redux.

OVERALL BUDGET INCREASES

Magazine and newspaper publishers have worried that the relaxed broadcast rules will result in a loss of money for print, but ad agencies dealing in DTC note that pharmaceutical clients appear to be increasing budgets overall.

Also, current FDA guidelines require TV ads to have a print counterpart.

Print DTC expenditures jumped 44.8%, to $477 million, through August of this year, per CMR.

WON'T REACH $1 BIL

Still, earlier projections that the category would exceed $1 billion this year are expected to fall a bit short. Some industry executives said ad budgets could not shift in time to make use of the new rule, while others said more research is needed and the new TV rules in some ways seem discouraging.

Despite immediate TV advertising by such major marketers as Glaxo Wellcome, Hoechst Marion Roussel and Schering-Plough Corp., an anticipated deluge into that medium materialized more as a steady stream.

Approximately 10 branded prescription drugs currently are using broadcast ads; six more have been reviewed by the FDA and may soon hit the airwaves. However several non-branded campaigns that met previous FDA guidelines remain on the air as well.

Current commercials from Abbott Laboratories, Johnson & Johnson's Janssen unit and American Home Products' Wyeth-Ayerst division remain true to old rules

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