No cure-alls

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Prescription drug marketers have embraced the new Rx for success: Support the product with direct-to-consumer ads backed by generous mass media budgets; then join Viagra and Claritin in the multi-million-dollar sales circle. Alas, it's only half true. Witness Hoffman-LaRoche's struggles with its Xenical weight-loss drug.

Xenical sales have not matched its perhaps over-hyped expectations-despite millions in DTC ad support. The Xenical agencies for DTC and professional ads, units of Lowe Group, are gone. Meanwhile, Roche is hunting for some new approach that would create marketplace magic within the very special rules for advertising prescription products, which require brand specific ads to be specific about the advertised drug's sometimes unattractive potential side effects.

Xenical's tale suggests the DTC ad revolution is entering a new and more mature stage. Even with Food & Drug Administration sanction to advertise prescription products directly to consumers, there are few "miracle" marketing cures, just as there are few miracle drugs. Brand advertising works, but not always. Sometimes the unbranded generic approach works better. In others, advertising more effectively to doctors is more cost-effective than mega-bucks spent in mass media.

Maturity is a good thing-even if it dampens some blue-sky dreams of blockbuster success. For Roche and others in the DTC ad world, it should mean smarter, more realistic strategies for the long haul.

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