Pharma Ads Work

Well, now if I were the president of this land
You know, I’d declare total war on The Pusher man.

From the Steppenwolf song “The Pusher” (Words and music by Hoyt Axton).  We’ve got a new president, but I doubt he’s ready to review the direct-to-consumer pharmaceutical advertising. Maybe after he’s read the New England Journal of Medicine’s 2007 report on the topic he might reconsider:

Since 2000, direct-to-consumer advertising of prescription drugs has continued to grow both in absolute dollars and relative to other forms of promotion. Although the evidence base is growing, there are few data to support an assessment of the balance of the costs and benefits of such advertising. The debate over whether and how direct-to-consumer advertising should be more tightly regulated takes place against a backdrop of growing concern about the growth of health care spending, particularly in the Medicare program. Gaining a better understanding of the effects of direct-to-consumer advertising for prescription drugs has important public health implications not only for the United States and New Zealand, where such advertising is also permitted, but also for Canada and the European Union, where such advertising is banned but has been subject to recent challenge.

Yes, advertising does move pharma product. Take, for example, the phenomenal growth of ED drugs. Barry Silverstein’s pun-filled piece in suggests we won’t soon see the end of this type of advertising.  He offers these suggestions on how to make their brands more distinctive:

Barring governmental intervention, if drug companies continue to utilize DTC advertising, they will have to find ways to make their brands distinctive, if not memorable. That presents them with a number of challenges:

  1. Pharmaceutical brand names are vague and often meaningless. They do little to distinguish one brand from another. Consider such popular drug brand names as Celebrex (arthritis), Lunesta (sleep aid) and Vytorin (cholesterol). What do these names say about what the drugs accomplish?
  2. Drug advertising is, for the most part, dull and unexciting. It is a category that could use new, more effective ways of breaking through.
  3. Regulatory restrictions, no matter how lax, will continue to make it difficult to advertise drugs without including a list of side effects. Sometimes the recital of the list itself creates an unintentionally foreboding or even humorous aspect to a drug ad.

Ads for ED drugs does prompt a joke from the TV viewing audience. But for a real laugh, watch this clip of Robin Williams.

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