Sunday, May 20, 2007

Drugging Heavy

Want to cure your marthambles? Suffering from the strong fives and want to relieve your pain? You don’t have to call your doctor this instant. Start your exploration for the perfect drug in the pages of, oh, say, Cooking Light magazine.

Not news: advertising Rx drugs to consumers. Several years ago, a US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) survey of 500 doctors found that Direct-to-Consumer (DTC) prescription drug advertising was increasing patient awareness of diseases and improving interaction between patients and doctors. Despite this, and because they were concerned about the rising cost of health care, some Members of Congress began considering legislation to restrict or discourage DTC ads.

This past April, the Magazine Publishers Association’s vigorous defense of magazine publishers’ right to carry pharmaceutical advertising suffered a little setback. The US Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee booted an MPA-sponsored amendment to a drug safety bill that would have lessened restrictions on DTC pharma advertising. The villain-in-chief is pictured here – bet you can’t guess who it is.

The vote against the pro-DTC amendment was 11-10. All Democrats opposed the amendment. All Republicans supported it. The association will carry on the fight: “MPA Continues Vigorous Defense of Drug Advertising as Committee Rejects DTC Amendment by 11-10 Vote.”

DTCA is illegal in many countries, like Australia. In the US, it’s alive and well and part of a public debate about the right-to-inform (which is also about the right to advertise.)

I strongly support the right to advertise. I do wonder, though, if prescription drug advertising is exploitive.

Twenty-plus years ago, a survey of 64 popular men’s magazines and 47 women’s magazines revealed that almost seven times as many drug advertisements were found in the women’s mags than in the men’s rags. These ads were for over-the-counter drugs, not prescription…this was before the FDA let the drug companies undertake DTC advertising. [Journal of Drug Education, 1986-00-00; authors: Vener, AM; Krupka, LR]. Today, DTC ads are common in all media.

So the recent issue of Cooking Light arrived: 258 pages including a foldout cover. I like the magazine, mostly. There are some good recipes, nice photos…nothing exactly fancy in the way of print ads, but interesting for trend watchers.

Among Cooking Light’s 258 pages, 124 (48%) are full-page ads or equivalent units. Of these, 20 ads are for prescription drugs. So about half the issue is advertising and 19% of that promotes drugs DTC.

[These drug ads must have accompanying pages of lice-type-size “Patient Information,” which I’ve included in the count.]

Here’s Sally Fields pitching Boniva®, just like on the television commercials. The headline is a quote but Fields’s name does not appear in the ad. Hmmm? Cure the shooting pain in your feet with Lyrica®. “Protect against the formation of clots” with Plavix®. You can do something about your bladder control problem if only you were taking Detrol® LA.

PremproTM is right for menopausal symptoms. An ad for RozeremTM says “your dreams miss you” – an unusual series if you’ve been following it. Nexium® can heal the damage caused by acid reflux disease. (Is there anybody in America who doesn’t recognize the purple capsules now?)

The symptoms of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease may be relieved by Spiriva®. Or you could stop smoking, I suppose. A rather ghastly purple cousin of Taz, the Warner Bros. cartoon character, represents migraine headaches in the ad for Imitrex®. I wonder if the people at Warner see a resemblance.

One of a very long-running series is an ad for Vytorin®, which is [a] for treating cholesterol and [b] rather clever (if occasionally obscure). The proposition is clearly stated on its website. Merck and Schering-Plough have been remarkably consistent in the two years I’ve been tracking this campaign. There’ll be a post about this campaign soon.

Finally, an ad from GlaxoSmithKline is introducing a once-a-day form of its best-selling heart medicine, called Coreg CRTM. Fair is fair: I use Coreg and I read this ad front and back. I may go for the 30-day-free trial since I have to take a dose twice a day.

The Vytorin ad in one of several that make sense for Cooking Light’s direct audience – foodies. Several more are close while the one about foot pain is…a bit disconcerting.

All these Rx ads (I included the OTC products in the overall page count, not the 20 DTCs) appear in a magazine whose readership is 85.4% women. Will I find the same heavy concentration of DTC ads in Field & Stream or “the Magazine for Today’s Go-To Guy,” Popular Mechanics?

I’ll just have to go buy the pubs and find out…since I’m reading Cooking Light these days.

PS: Most trademark law says that a registered trademark should be used as an adjective rather than a noun. For example, Brand-Aid® Brand Adhesive Bandages. The drug companies and their ad agencies seem to have reached a gentlemen’s agreement not to do this. Otherwise, Sally Fields would be saying “Boniva Brand Ibandronate Sodium Tablets” in every commercial.

Note: all trademarks are the property of their respective owners. All rights are reserved. Get your own brand name. “Marthambles" and “Strong Fives" courtesy of Patrick O'Brian of blessed memory.

1 comment:

Susan Kirkland said...

When marketing enters the doctor's office and appeals directly to a mostly ignorant (about health) patient, we tread a dangerous ethical line as a society. Along with being an appeal to hypochondriacs everywhere, these ads create illnesses to pull revenue into the drug firm based not on a bonafide need, but rather finding love and attention in a bottle. Car mechanics all over the country sell tires on the anxiety response of little old ladies everywhere; now doctors will, too. How will you know when your medical professionals are suggesting something you truly need or something they "need" to sell you to make that next payment on the Rolls Royce.

Sorry, Richard--had an extra comma I needed to get rid of.