The spending patterns of early 2005 speak volumes about how Big Pharma plans to go to market amid prolonged criticism and scrutiny of its practices from doctors and lawmakers.
Direct-to-consumer ad spending was flat for the first five months of the year after eight consecutive years of soaring growth that included a 28% boost last year to $4.4 billion in measured media.
The money that is being spent is going to different places. Network-TV outlays fell 5% to $400 million through May, while cable TV rose 35% to $335 million. Internet spending was up 13% to $56 million, and print spending rose 3% to $719 million, according to TNS Media Intelligence.
"You're going to see pharma do what they said they were going to do-more niche marketing," said Mike Guarini, director of WPP Group's Ogilvy & Mather Healthcare.
Although they have until Dec. 31 to comply with the DTC code of conduct issued this month by the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, several drug makers have already changed their marketing strategies. They are turning to cable and the Internet for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is the chance for more targeted marketing at a cost lower than network TV. GlaxoSmithKline, for instance, can better target ads for osteoporosis drug Boniva by placing them on such cable outlets as Lifetime and Oxygen, which draw a heavy concentration of women.
On the Web, companies are striking deals with sites that better position searches for their products. Pfizer and WebMD came to an agreement in which surfers looking for information on migraine headaches on webmd.com will see a small box to the right of the search results entitled "From Our Sponsors" that includes links to three sites featuring information about chronic headaches and Pfizer's drug Relpax.
Nine days after PhRMA issued its guidelines for the industry, Pfizer unveiled a complete revamp of the way it approaches its DTC advertising, first reported by Advertising Age (AA, July 25). The world's largest pharmaceutical maker already said it was limiting ads for erectile dysfunction drug Viagra to age appropriate audiences-one of 15 points in the code of conduct. (Read the guidelines at AdAge.com QwikFIND aaq80d)
Eli Lilly, which markets ED medication Cialis, said it too would limit ads for the product to TV programs that would not attract children, and that it would cease running spots during events such as the Super Bowl.
Takeda Pharmaceuticals North America, set to launch Rozerem into the ever-growing insomnia treatment market, said it will delay TV ads for the product until it feels physicians have been fully educated.
"The last thing we want to do is drive patients into physicians' offices asking them about a new product that physicians aren't necessarily going to have all of the recent information on," said Takeda spokesman Matt Kuhn.
Even GSK has taken ASAP to new heights. The company said it would start complying with PhRMA's guidelines "as soon as possible," and has since begun airing a TV spot for Boniva in which the bulk of the 30 seconds are devoted to the risks associated with taking the product-a point also addressed in the guidelines.
"People in the industry realize times are changing," said a VP-marketing for one of the top 10 drug companies. "They can go kicking and screaming, or they can make changes that benefit the industry and the consumer."