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Responding to new freedoms on TV for prescription drug advertising, pharmaceutical ad budgets have kicked into overdrive this year.

The category attracted $479.7 million in direct-to-consumer media January-May of this year, up 33%: TV's share of $235.8 million nearly quadrupled TV's tally in the year-earlier period; print's $237.9 million portion was off 21.7%, according to Competitive Media Reporting.

TV's total in all of '97 was $167.9 million, less than 20% of the all-media total. Some $98 million of that was branded and occurred after August when the Food & Drug Administration issued exploratory guidance that permitted marketers to run commercials naming the prescription product, the condition it is used to treat and some side effects.

By comparison there are currently few unbranded TV spots, the pre-August '97 staple that focused on ailments while sending viewers to a doctor and/or a toll-free number for more information. Unbranded ads hit $20 million in January-May of this year, down 85%.


During '97, Glaxo Wellcome, largest overall DTC advertiser, spent $41 million on unbranded DTC ads that addressed HIV, genital herpes, migraine and nicotine addiction ailments.

The advantage to running unbranded commercials is they free advertisers from running extensive side effects information. Marketers usually limited their unbranded ads to categories in which they have the lead product, otherwise consumers would go to doctors for the condition and would more likely be prescribed the leading competitor's brand.

The top two DTC brand media budgets in the first five months of '98 grew dramatically because of new TV allowances. Bristol-Myers Squibb Co.'s Pravachol cholesterol treatment pulled nearly $53 million in media, $22.5 million from network TV and $30 million from print. Schering-Plough's Claritin allergy drug got $45 million in spending in the first five months, some $25.7 million from TV.

During '97, the huge cholesterol reducer market expanded 34% to $3.8 billion, according to IMS Health. Pravachol got the most DTC support in the category -- in fact, in all categories -- of $64.7 million. Yet, it could gain only 0.2 share points to 20% of market, second to Merck & Co.'s Zocor at 36%. Zocor received $45.6 million last year.

Pravachol's strong support left Bristol-Myers Squibb third in DTC spending for the year, following Glaxo and Merck. Merck, among others, backs DTC brands, Prilosec, an anti-ulcerant, and Fosamax, a treatment for osteoporosis.


Brands continue to duke it out in the allergy category, second largest DTC category at $1.6 billion sales in '97, up 29%.

Apart from Claritin's ad splurge in the January-May '98 period, Allegra from Hoechst Marion Roussel spent $29.5 million, Pfizer's Zyrtec got $24.6 million and Glaxo Wellcome's Flonase, $23 million -- spending that fairly matched levels in the first five months of '97.

This category is not short of "creative" ads: Claritin in July '98 got the first prescription drug celebrity presenter for a TV ad, former "Good Morning America" host Joan Lunden. Zyrtec showed a man being chased inside his home by allergy-inducing flowers and cats.

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