'98 DTC Rx Ad Spending to Top $1B

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Drug companies remained on course to crest the $1 billion threshold in direct-to-consumer ad spending for prescription medications in 1998, according to a study that tracked such expenditures through the third quarter.

Competitive Media Reporting, New York, which calculates ad spending through all media, said drug companies spent $896.75 million through September, up 32.3 percent from the same period a year earlier. In all of 1997, expenditures totaled $843.89 million.

The biggest increase came in network TV advertising, where drug companies spent $289.09 million, nearly four times the spending of $73.39 million in the comparable period of 1997. The spot, syndicated and cable TV channels also saw large gains during the 1998 period, and both network and spot radio had increases.

TV advertising of prescription drugs had been increasing since the August 1997 loosening of Food and Drug Administration's regulations. The study revealed that spending decreased in several channels, however, including magazines, Sunday magazines, local newspapers, national newspapers and outdoor advertising.

Glaxo-Wellcome spent the most on direct marketing of prescription drugs during the nine-month period, with $134.04 million, followed by Schering-Plough Corp., $129.94 million; Merck & Co. Inc., $127.49 million; and Pfizer Inc., $96.89 million. Eli Lilly & Co., which was No. 5 in terms of ad spending through the first three quarters, increased spending the most, to $77.89 million, a 537.2 percent increase over spending of $14.5 million through the first three quarters of 1997.

Bob Consalvo, a spokesman for Schering-Plough Corp., said the bulk of that company's spending was in support of its Claritin allergy-relief medication, which was backed with $103.35 million, the most of any prescription-drug brand, according to the CMR report. In the first nine months of 1997, the company had spent $49.34 million on DTC advertising of Claritin.

"Direct-to-consumer advertising makes sense for allergy sufferers because they tend to want to play an active role in their own treatment," Consalvo said.

In addition to Claritin, Schering-Plough also recently began airing TV spots for its Nasonex antihistamine product, he said.

Following Claritin in the brand rankings were Zyrtec, another allergy medication, with $64.46 million through three quarters; Provochol, a drug to treat high cholesterol, $58.72 million; Propecia, a hair-loss treatment, $56.38 million; and Allegra, another allergy medication, $49.24 million. Allegra was the only brand among the top five to decrease spending, down 21 percent from $62.3 million in the year-ago period.

Consalvo said the 1997 change in TV advertising regulations opened the door for more companies to launch DTC campaigns and also prompted some existing advertisers to increase their spending. Before the FDA ruling, drug makers could either mention their products' brand names or their uses, but not both, in TV ads.

CMR, a provider of marketing intelligence, is a division of VNU Marketing Information Services, which is a subsidiary of VNU USA.

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