Bristol-Myers Adopts 1-Year Wait for New-Drug Ads

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Drug manufacturer Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. dealt a huge blow to branded mass media owners June 13 with the launch of a direct-to-consumer communications code that imposes a yearlong waiting period on new-drug advertisements.


The announcement comes amid scandals involving drug efficacy, including safety issues that forced Merck & Co. to pull its Vioxx arthritis painkiller from the market. Bristol-Myers' moratorium on new medication ads involves branded mass media like television, radio and print.


"During that period, we will focus our efforts on educating medical professionals about the new prescription medication and seek their input regarding their experience prescribing the medication," the Bristol-Myers code says. "When we do advertise on television it will be to appropriate audiences at appropriate times of the day. We will fully consider the benefits, risks and potential side effects of our medicines and the intended or unintended impact of communicating such messages to various audiences."


Once the New York drug maker decides to advertise across TV, radio and print, it will submit the proposed ads to the Food and Drug Administration for advisory comments.


It's unclear whether the company will divert its new-drug ad budget to more direct or interactive marketing for physician communications. Nor is it known whether mail and e-mail to consumers for new drugs also will be scaled back, maintained or increased in the 12-month waiting period.


A call to Bristol-Myers wasn't returned at press time.


Under the code, Bristol-Myers will refer consumers and physicians to Web sites with details on medications and links to safety and prescribing information.


The company also will include relevant information in print ads and patient brochures as well as on Web sites about patient assistance programs to help people get the medicines they need. Information on the Partnership for Prescription Assistance program will be included in U.S. materials.


The plan for new Bristol-Myers products includes a promise to "develop disease state awareness advertising, as appropriate, for diseases that may be potentially treated by our newly launched medications in order to further educate consumers and healthcare professionals," the code says.


Deborah Y. Cohn, marketing professor at New York-based Yeshiva University's Sy Syms School of Business, thought the change in Bristol-Myers' ad policy made sense.


"It is trying to ward off tighter government control over advertising in their industry," Cohn said in a statement. "In this way, when they do advertise and consumers [and] patients ask healthcare professionals for the drugs, it is more likely it will be prescribed.


"As a marketing tool, providing information first to those who make the final decision about a drug is helpful. In addition, Bristol can make themselves look good in this tug of war about direct-to-consumer advertising."


Those at the losing end of Bristol-Myers' decision include TV networks like NBC, CBS, ABC and Fox as well as radio brands like Infinity Broadcasting and Clear Channel Communications. Newspapers, health magazines and titles targeting seniors also will be affected.


According to a Reuters report, the pharmaceutical industry spends $3.2 billion yearly on direct advertising to U.S. consumers, led by ads for erectile dysfunction, arthritis and allergies.


TV ads for arthritis decreased last year after Merck pulled Vioxx. The anti-inflammatory drug was feared to increase the risk of heart attack and stroke. Shortly after the Vioxx pullback, the FDA requested Pfizer to withdraw ads for its Celebrex painkiller.


Mickey Alam Khan covers Internet marketing campaigns and e-commerce, agency news as well as circulation for DM News and DMNews.com. To keep up with the latest developments in these areas, subscribe to our daily and weekly e-mail newsletters by visiting www.dmnews.com/newsletters


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