Anxiety level on the rise with high-profile DTC ads

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Led by Prozac, depression drugs have been some of the more heavily advertised treatments in recent years. Now, depression's sister condition -- anxiety -- is receiving increased focus from direct-to-consumer marketers.

The latest example came last week when Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. launched an estimated $20 million to $30 million campaign for BuSpar, a 13-year-old drug for generalized anxiety disorder. Scheduled to run through May, the print ad appears in magazines such as Good Housekeeping and People, while the 60-second spot is set to be launched Dec. 27 on broadcast and cable TV.

The push follows a $30 million campaign SmithKline Beecham started in September for Paxil, highlighting that drug's ability to treat social anxiety disorder.

Early next year, Pfizer is expected to launch a DTC initiative for Zoloft, trumpeting its recent approval by the Food & Drug Administration to treat post-traumatic stress disorder, a form of anxiety.

"I think we're seeing the destigmatization of mental illness," said Tom Drake, director of customer marketing information services at consultancy Rx Remedy.

Marketers of both depression and anxiety drugs have benefited from a shift in the zeitgeist, perhaps propelled by Prozac.

Targeted at women, who research shows suffer from the condition more than men, Bristol-Myers' campaign for BuSpar features a female cartoon character with typical symptoms such as difficulty concentrating, muscle tension and constant fatigue.


BuSpar has generated DTC ads before, but the latest campaign, from Robert A. Becker Euro RSCG, New York, marks the first time the drug has been the subject of TV ads.

The BuSpar campaign is aimed at building awareness that general anxiety disorder is more than a case of "being stressed out." In fact, stress may have traceable causes, while this disorder can be manifested as "overwhelming unfounded worry," according to the print ad.

Only BuSpar and depression drug Effexor XR -- also handled by Becker, and marketed by American Home Products Corp.'s Wyeth-Ayerst division -- have FDA approval to treat the disorder. But physicians use other depression drugs such as Prozac to treat the problem.

BuSpar, however, is touted as able to relieve symptoms without some of the more severe side effects depression drugs can bring, such as drowsiness and a loss of libido.

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