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A deluge of new prescription-drug TV commercials is starting to hit in the wake of more-specific broadcast ad guidelines issued late last week by the Food & Drug Administration.

Direct-to-consumer drug commercials can now name the brand and the condition it treats without the cumbersome language previously required-ending the consumer confusion engendered by spots that named only the brand or only the condition.


With the change, however, TV spots must contain each of the following: a statement that professionals may provide additional information; a toll-free number for information by mail, fax or phone; reference to print ads or brochures; and a Web site.

New guidelines for print ads were not issued but may come later.

With DTC ad spending on TV already up 35%-to $47.4 million-for the first five months of this year, by Competitive Media Reporting calculations, industry players expect the entry into the fray of far more pharmaceutical marketers in the coming months.

That could at least double 1996's $68 million in DTC TV ads.

Through May of this year, $351.4 million has been spent in all media, meaning last year's all-media total of $595.5 million could also double.


"This is a phenomenon that has been scarcely scratched-the avenue is clearly wide open," said Don Stuart, a partner in Cannondale Associates. "There will be a lot of learning going on."

In anticipation of the new guidelines, several marketers had new ads ready to go. Among them: Glaxo Wellcome with a TV spot that broke last Friday for antiviral Valtrex, via KPR, New York.

Hoechst Marion Roussel today will unveil a revised version of its "wheat field/surfer" spot for allergy drug Allegra.

With most advance sales for the coming fall TV season already completed, the most immediate impact of the new money pouring onto the airwaves could be a tightening of the scatter market. Scatter is the national TV buys made after upfront deals are done.


Cable's CNN, however, closed an upfront deal in anticipation of the rule change.

"During the upfront, we closed a deal with a pharmaceutical company that will make it one of the major advertisers on CNN," said Larry Goodman, president of CNN advertising sales.

The marketer, which Mr. Goodman declined to name, previously had "a very small presence on our network."

Mr. Goodman said another major pharmaceutical company has arranged a daylong meeting with him and his staff to discuss availabilities and opportunities.

"We expect significant money," said Lynn Picard, senior VP-sales for Lifetime, the cable network specializing in women's programming.


"We're excited to finally be able to give consumers direct and non-confusing ads," said Lorraine Pastore, exec VP-management director at Medicus Group International, New York, a unit of McManus Group.

The agency handles Allegra for Hoechst, and ran into problems earlier this year when the FDA concluded its TV advertising was too representative of allergies (AA, June 30). The commercial, now revamped and ready to air, had ceased running at that time and came under review by FDA.

"That [action] inspired this dialogue with the FDA," a Hoechst spokeswoman said. "We worked very closely with them to make [the new guidelines] a reality."

With the requirements for TV ads eased, some publishers are concerned their enormous share of the DTC ad pie will fall. Magazines alone received $479.5 million in DTC spending last year, with newspapers pulling in another $40.5 million.


"We will do everything we can to discourage drug companies from moving print dollars to TV," said Donald Kummerfeld, president of the Magazine Publishers of America. "We believe the nature of that category requires a great deal of information, and magazines are better equipped to provide that information. We still hope to maintain our ad revenues in that category."

But, said a spokeswoman for No. 1 DTC advertiser Glaxo, "everybody's budget is finite, and you have to make decisions about where the money will come from."


She added that "direct mail hasn't been particularly efficient" and may lose some dollars, but print hasn't been decided yet.

"It will depend on the response we get from our first [new TV] ads," she said.

Pharmacia & Upjohn-credited with starting the trend toward DTC TV with Rogaine-said it will not convert its test TV campaign from HMC Consumer, New York, behind prescription contraceptive Depo-Provera to the new format.

Contributing: Carol Krol, Chuck Ross

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