DTC ads prompt consumers to see physicians

'Prevention' study shows that interest in advertised drugs continues to rise

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When the annual Prevention magazine survey on direct-to-consumer pharmaceutical advertising reaches his desk, VP-Publisher Bob Ziltz usually has what he calls a "wow moment" from the results of one or two of the questions.

This year he got three.

Rodale Inc.'s Prevention released part of the survey to Advertising Age last week-the full results will be presented May 11 in New York-and there were significant increases from three categories that had generally remained flat over the years.

The trend in the proportion of consumers who talked to their doctors after seeing an advertised prescription medication jumped seven percentage points to 41%. Since 1997, the first year of the survey, this number had fluctuated to between 31% and 34%.

disease awareness up

Disease awareness by consumers was also up seven points, to 42%. Between 1998 and 2001, this remained steady between 32%-35% (the question was not asked in the 2003-2005 surveys).

And DTC ads are increasing the information-seeking behavior among caregivers. The number of people who say they saw an ad that made them seek out more information is up 11 percentage points from 2003, the last time that particular question was asked.

"We definitely had our 'wow moments' this year," Mr. Ziltz said. "I think any time you see more people talking to their doctor it's encouraging to a lot of different groups."

The ninth annual survey was conducted March 2-19 by Princeton Survey Research, with technical assistance from the Food and Drug Administration's Division of Drug Marketing, Advertising and Communications, for Rodale's Prevention, Men's Health and Women's Health magazines, which also funded the trending study. The national telephone survey of 1,504 adults ages 18 and over had a sampling error of +/- 3%, "and it's blind," Mr. Ziltz said. "We have no idea whether they are Prevention subscribers or not."

Both Mr. Ziltz and Cary Silvers, director-consumer and advertising trends for Rodale, noted that no one demographic appears to be driving the increase in communication. The numbers are up across the board, including Generation Y; people age 61 and over; African-Americans; non-high school graduates and those living in homes with a household income of $75,000 and up.

"The net effect is that the doctor is still in charge, but the patient is more knowledgeable," Mr. Silvers said. "Consumers are information seekers."

The survey notes that of the 41% who talked to their doctors after seeing a branded ad, 75% reported only talking with the physician compared to 22% who outright asked for a prescription.

Mr. Silvers also said that while celebrities in DTC ads have "stopping power," the majority of those surveyed say the celeb's presence made no difference in believing the medication was effective.
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