Prescription drug companies have stepped up direct-to-consumer advertising, with the blessing of the American Medical Association, which has removed its ban on this kind of advertising. UpJohn was the first company to target consumers four years ago when it put Rogaine, a hair-loss remedy, on the national air waves. The largest direct-to-consumer ad category to date is the nicotine patch. Marion Merrell Dow, Ciba-Geigy Ltd, American Cyanamid and Warner-Lambert have invested over $100 million ad dollars in this product.
The American Medical Association has given license to a growing and aggressive breed of consumer advertiser–prescription drug makers. At its semiannual meeting in Chicago last week, the group scrapped a longtime ban against direct-to consumer advertising to allow educational pitches.
It’s not that drug marketers needed the AMA’s blessing. Driven by intense competition, they have been pushing the limits of prescription-drug advertising in recent years. Pharmaceutical companies are increasingly shifting their target from physicians to consumers, and they are using mass-media strategies to build their brands.
Upjohn Co. started the avalanche of direct-to-consumer advertising four years ago with its Rogaine baldness treatment. Other companies have been following in droves. Glaxo Inc. is said to be considering a consumer ad campaign for its Sumatriptan migraine remedy, now awaiting federal approval. Earlier this year Marion Merrell Dow Inc. broke an $8 million print and cable TV campaign for its new once-a-day cardiovascular drug, Cardizem CD. Ads target consumers who now take the drug twice a day.
But those campaigns pale next to the $100 million ad war over nicotine patches. The big-bucks competition for consumers is expected to propel that category to $400 million in sales by 1995.
“There’s a tremendous opportunity here for some products,” says securities analyst Barbara Ryan of Alex. Brown & Sons in New York. “People generally want to have more input into their health.”
Upjohn can certainly attest to that. With the introduction of Rogaine, the company went beyond its traditional audience of doctors and appealed directly to end users– balding men. This year Upjohn began pitching women as well. Worldwide sales of Rogaine grew from $87 million in 1988 to $143 million last year. Direct response to the company’s 800 number rose from 165,000 in 1989 to more than one million last year.
“In 1988 the bulk of the advertising campaign focused on building general awareness,” says Ellen Miller, executive director of Upjohn’s dermatology division. “We used up a lot of national airtime. Now we’ve narrowed the focus and do more direct response. We’ve learned how to reach out to those who are really concerned about hair loss.”
The more recent battle of the nicotine patches have brought Marion Merrell Dow, Ciba-Geigy Ltd., American Cyanamid Co. and WarnerLambert to the national airwaves. Marion Merrell Dow, the first to receive federal approval, has been the most aggressive. It spent about $1 million to pitch its Nicoderm patch on CBS’ Super Bowl coverage in January. With WarnerLambert set to enter the fray next month with Nicotrol, total ad spending for the category should reach $100 million.
Upjohn’s Miller expects the consumer-advertising boom to continue, as doctors have less time to spend with sales reps and consumers become better educated. “You’re dealing with a different type of consumer these days,” she says. “They want to be a participant rather than someone who merely takes instructions and follows orders.”