New venture aims to measure effectiveness of DTC drug work

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With spending on direct-to-consumer drug advertising on an inexorable rise, pharmaceutical manufacturers are searching for ways to judge whether their gambles will pay off.

Enter package-goods consultancy Information Resources Inc. and healthcare consultancy Rx Remedy Information Services. The pair have joined to launch BehaviorScan Rx, a service planned for the fall to allow marketers to gauge the effect of DTC TV ads.

The plan links IRI's two-decade-old BehaviorScan system for measuring TV ad effectiveness with Rx Remedy's 3-year-old service that tracks consumer healthcare behavior.

MARKET TESTS

IRI will set up its system in four test markets (Pittsfield, Mass.; Eau Claire, Wis.; Cedar Rapids, Iowa; and Midland, Texas), where advertisers will be given the chance to buy ad space locally at a frequency and position level commensurate with a national buy. Participants who view the ads will then have their prescription drug activity monitored, allowing for analysis of ad response.

IRI/Rx are searching for four charter clients before launching the service. Drug giants such as Pfizer and Schering-Plough Corp. have expressed interest and BehaviorScan Rx officials say they have little doubt they'll have users signed up soon. Marketers of most of the top 20 DTC-advertised drugs have shown an interest, they said.

Drug companies will be offered category exclusivity. Contracts will run for a year, but drug companies will then have the right to continually renew. Costs were not released.

AD RESPONSE

For a particular type of disease or condition, such as allergies or depression, BehaviorScan Rx will monitor the responses of approximately 1,250 viewers to ads. IRI can set up a control so some households will receive the ads for a product such as Eli Lilly & Co.'s Prozac, while others will see an unrelated public service announcement instead. Specific programs and dayparts can also be tested for effectiveness at carrying DTC ads during breaks.

Participants who agree to allow BehaviorScan Rx to monitor their trips to the doctor and medicine-taking habits are compensated in a variety of ways, ranging from cash to pre-paid phone cards to charitable donations on their behalf.

IRI/Rx will not only be able to gauge ad effectiveness at persuading people to begin taking a drug for the first time, but also DTC TV's ability to encourage people to comply with their prescriptions by continuing to take their medications. For ad agencies, the system could provide valuable information about the performance of creative strategies.

THE BOB DOLE FACTOR

"Is it worth using Bob Dole as your spokesperson or would you be better off using someone else?" said Jim Findley, exec VP-general manager of IRI's Testing Services Group, giving an example of how the information might be used by agencies.

For years IRI has run its BehaviorScan program for packaged goods, measuring ad effectiveness by running ads in a test market and matching frequency and cost of ads with over-the-counter sales figures.

Mr. Findley said recently marketers from companies that sell both OTC and Rx products expressed an interest in setting up the system to gauge DTC.

"The OTC guys were telling us, `If you come up with something like this for DTC, we have an open checkbook,' " Mr. Findley said.

Mr. Findley, in turn, realized that package-goods ad dollars weren't growing at nearly the rate of DTC, and he contacted Rx Remedy looking to launch the partnership and grow his business.

FDA STRICTURES LOOSENED

DTC TV has boomed since the U.S. Food & Drug Administration loosened its restrictions on broadcast TV ads in 1997. Figures from consultancy IMS Health show that DTC TV spending was $220 million in 1996. In 1997, when the FDA change was made midyear, the figure grew to $310 million. It jumped to $664 million in 1998, while last year it ballooned to $1.1 billion.

Yet as spending has grown, marketers have grown hungrier for evidence that money is being spent wisely.

"Every pitch we do we are asked to explain how we intend to measure the return on investment," said Mark Worman, president of McCann-Erickson Consumer Health, New York.

But gauging the effectiveness of DTC can be complicated because so much goes into an overall drug promotion plan, including significant dollars to educate physicians. And unlike package-goods, consumers don't have free rein in the Rx world: They need a doctor's prescription to buy a product.

"The challenge is to isolate the direct-to-consumer portion in light of everything that goes on in the marketplace," said Robert Enck, president of Rx Remedy Information Services.

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