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Direct-to-consumer drug advertising moves to another medium next month: the drugstore circular.

Sav-Mor Franchising, which operates a chain of 72 drugstores in Michigan, launches a program Oct. 4 that allows marketers to run a DTC print ad in the circulars it sends home to potential shoppers and distributes in its stores.

Merck & Co. is the charter advertiser, with an ad for anti-hair loss drug Propecia. With a shot of the pink pill and the drug name but no usage claims, the marketer does not have to run the so-called brief summary page mentioning potential side effects and other information.

Federal regulations require pharmaceutical marketers to list a prescription product's side effects if the ad mentions the medical condition the drug treats. Drug marketers have begun to circumvent the rule by mentioning the product, but not saying what it treats.

The ad tells customers to "ask your Sav-Mor pharmacist or your doctor" about Propecia. The effort is believed to be the first time a big drug marketer has advertised in a local circular. Its over-the-counter competitor, Pharmacia & Upjohn's Rogaine, has already advertised in Sav-Mor's circular.


Merck will also have the chance to distribute Propecia brochures on the pharmacy counter to augment the ad's effect. Because it's a new program, Sav-Mor is charging only $5,000 for a circulation of 450,000.

The idea is to capitalize on people's trust in their pharmacist.

"I think there's a need to get this kind of information to the consumer and who better than the pharmacist," said Sav-Mor Exec VP Gerald Katchman.

Merck's use of circulars for Propecia shows how crowded prescription drug marketing has become, said Tom Drake, director-customer marketing information services for consultancy Rx Remedy. "It's obviously showing the maturation in the DTC arena of marketers looking for new ways to communicate effectively and outflank the competition," he said.


Traditionally, food and OTC marketers pay for ads in circulars after merchandisers place an order, but the Sav-Mor DTC ad operates outside of that established channel.

Merck recently began running TV ads that don't mention Propecia by name but encourage people to ask their doctor about hair loss treatments.

Those ads differ from the drug's launch campaign last year that featured a man in front of a mirror and detailed Propecia's indication.

Propecia, which competes against Rogaine, had $72.7 million in sales in its first year on the market, according to consultancy Scott-Levin. Through August,

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