Comparative ads DTC inevitability

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Comparatively speaking, the relatively short shelf life of pharmaceutical direct-to-consumer advertising really hasn't gone down the path of pitting product vs. product. Until now.

Comparative ads are emerging as a trend in DTC marketing. Marketers of cholesterol-reducing statins appear poised to use the tactic, and rivals in the field of reversing erectile dysfunction have already started using comparative claims.

Comparative ads are "part of the advertising nomenclature that's been going on forever," says Andrew Schirmer, managing director of McCann HumanCare, New York, part of Interpublic Group of Cos.' McCann-Erickson Worldwide.

Mr. Schirmer was the lone ad agency representative to speak last month at the Food & Drug Administration's public hearings on DTC advertising, and he says consumers are familiar with comparative advertising, citing commercials that featured the "cola wars," Jif vs. Skippy peanut butter and telephone long-distance servers.

statin struggle

Statins accounted for $19 billion in sales in 2002 thanks to Pfizer's Lipitor, the world's biggest-selling drug in any category; Merck & Co.'s Zocor; and Bristol-Myers Squibb Co.'s Pravachol. AstraZeneca's Crestor hits the market later this year with a $50 million ad splash via WPP Group's Quantum Group, Parsippany, N.J.

On the horizon: the 2005 introduction of the combination medication Zocor-Zetia. Many analysts believe this drug, co-marketed by Merck and Schering-Plough Corp., will loosen Lipitor's firm grip on the cholesterol market. To counter that, Pfizer is conducting research and trials on combining Lipitor with one of its cardiovascular drugs, Norvasc.

Many believe that comparative DTC advertising is inevitable, and it's already happening in the erectile dysfunction category.

For five years, Pfizer's Viagra was thesole player in that ball game. But in August, Bayer and GlaxoSmithKline introduced Levitra with a $60 million campaign that included an $18 million sponsorship with the National Football League. Quantum Group also handles Levitra.

Levitra's claim in some of its ads, focusing on how quickly the drug works, were in direct competition to Viagra. Pfizer responded with a series of print ads from Omnicom Group's Cline Davis & Mann, New York, driving home the point that Viagra was safer, more effective and has been on the market longer.

Yet another ED drug will hit the market when Cialis, from Eli Lilly & Co. and Icos, becomes available later this year. Cialis is also expected to use comparative advertising. It claims to last longer than its rivals-in some cases up to 36 hours. Grey Global Group's Healthy Grey will create advertising for Cialis.

Cialis is already available in Europe. Last month, German urologist Hartmut Ports released preliminary results from an ongoing study in which he switched 226 of his patients from Viagra to Cialis and asked which drug they preferred. A 3-1 margin chose Cialis.

While Mr. Schirmer says the "potential" exists for more comparative ads, others say the ultimate decision still comes down to the physician. "The only way DTC works is to get them to ... see the doctor," says Dr. Neal Masia, Pfizer director of economic policy.

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