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Print media have been winning the lion's share of direct-to-consumer prescription drug advertising, but with new Food & Drug Administration guidelines allowing marketers to use TV*more effectively, media plans are being reworked for 1998.

While print media executives, especially at magazines, are fearful money will be shifted from print budgets to TV, initial DTC budgets so far have only expanded to accommodate TV time. But as marketers move further into their 1998 planning, what media will win the nod remains to be seen.


In 1996, prescription drug companies spent $446 million in print advertising and only $59.8 million in TV, according to Competitive Media Reporting. Last year, though FDA's ruling didn't come until August, spending in print increased more than 46% to $647.8 million (including magazines, Sunday magazines, local newspapers and national newspapers), while TV experienced more than a 150% increase, to $145.7 million, for the period January through November.

Even so, overall DTC spending is less than half that of over-the-counter, and it still has a long way to go if it is to come close to OTC levels on TV.

Publishers have not yet seen a huge shift in the first quarter of 1998, although some are complaining of overall softness in the category. Weeklies with mass reach like People could be the first to see the effects of a shift to TV.

People Publisher Nora McAniff notes that halfway through the first quarter, DTC pages were down about 20%, but she knows of three big campaign launches scheduled to start running in April.

"These pages are always so last-minute, especially since new brands have to wait to get FDA approval, so it's always hard to tell whether we are truly off or not. If it was cosmetics, I could predict out for you for the first six months how we would do. But I just don't know how this category is going to shake out," says Ms. McAniff.


Another group publishing executive agreed that it was hard to predict any dollar shift based on first-quarter numbers.

"There have been a few companies going to broadcasting, but there is still a lot of money out there to get. I really see the decisions being made on a brand-by-brand, magazine-by-magazine basis," the publishing executive says. "Some of these drug brands are fairly late closers, so we don't get schedules or the company will suddenly do more promotional spending when they get FDA approval. Some of that could still hit. What I'm saying is [that] it's a mixed story, and it hasn't played its way out yet."

Agency executives that deal with DTC drug advertisers say print will continue to play an important and necessary role. FDA guidelines say any TV advertising should refer to a print ad, a Web site and include a toll-free number for consumers to get more information.

Magazine Publishers of America VP-Marketing Christine Miller says while she applauds the policy, she wants to be sure the FDA makes DTC advertisers comply with the spirit of those guidelines.

"We're seeing a real period of learning on the part of the DTC advertisers and their agencies to figure out how to do advertising that is effective in the marketplace . . . I think, really, that people are sorting out what works," says Ms. Miller.

Michael Graham, CEO of J. Walter Thompson USA's Total Solutions Group, New York, says that print is needed to reach consumers about DTC brands effectively.

"Print and direct mail, those two have been the workhorses of pharmaceutical companies' outreach programs," he says. "That money will most likely not be shifting. What we are excited about is the awareness building TV can bring, especially when coupled with traditional information vehicles like direct mail and print."


Mr. Graham believes spending by DTC advertisers will surpass $1 billion this year, which would shore up the belief that budgets would grow rather than shift.

"I don't think there is any sense that this is a category shift," Mr. Graham says. "My sense is -- as we are witnessing in all communications -- consumers are absorbing information on their terms in a 24 [hour], 7 [day] environment. Pharmaceutical companies are recognizing they have to deliver information on products across multi-channels."


Others see the loosening of FDA regulations as not really a threat to print but a challenge to prove they deserve to hold onto the business.

Creative Media President Bob Hanley believes the "two media will have to compete like they always have on the value they bring to the consumer and marketer. TV is broader, but it is limited in delivering complex messages. Print is very selective, highly segmentable and able to marry the consumer with the drug and disease -- which had been restricted in TV. Print communicates a lot more information, which is important because baby boomers are interested in information and want to be armed when they go in to their doctors."


Few expect the print business to dry up. Mr. Hanley says TV is great when you want to get out quickly with your messages and it allows you to build reach very quickly but not with the same information that print can."

Still, the threat of TV remains and the magazine industry is making sure FDA knows of its position, lobbying for clearer regulations about which requirements DTC advertisers must adhere to.


According to Ms. Miller, "What the regulations say is that DTC advertisers have to make `adequate provision' for a consumer to get the information. If you are a reader of Time and the TV ad refers to Time, then you will see the information. But if you are not also in Good Housekeeping, you haven't made adequate provision for all the people who saw your television commercial to see that ad."

Ms. Miller refers to an area currently unaddressed by FDA -- how many people and what demographics must be reached in print to be equal in balance to a network TV buy? Another unanswered question is if equality can be obtained only through mass-circulation magazines such as Parade and Time or if there can be other approaches, such as the top 100 newspapers.

"Whatever reach that is gained in TV must be repeated in print if the advertiser is to fulfill its obligation," continues Ms. Miller. Millions will not be reached unless that ad is in many magazines and many newspapers."

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