Time Warner, Kessler Blast TV Drug Ads

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Time Warner Inc. and former FDA chairman Dr. David Kessler raised the ire of pharmaceutical drug advertisers and observers recently with results from a survey that said print advertising was a more effective communication medium than television.

The report, titled "DTC '98: Consumer and Physician Attitudes Toward Direct-to-Consumer Advertising," was released by a division of media powerhouse Time Warner Inc. It claimed that 58 percent of surveyed consumers cited magazine advertising as the most appropriate medium for pharmaceutical drug advertising, while only 27 percent cited television.

While the study cited a preference for print, television was cited as the leading medium in driving awareness. Additionally, print and television were deemed equal in prompting consumer action.

"We tried to look at how the different media contributed to the whole dynamic of the communication of the message," said Gay Kassan director of market development at Corporate Marketing Intelligence, the division of Time Warner Inc. that released the study at a June 10 breakfast briefing.

"Marketers have to understand the strength and weaknesses for each medium and use them appropriately," he said. "The approaches will vary by drug class and by brand, but I think the study fairly well demonstrates that consumer feel comfort with magazines in delivering information."

The study is apparently the first of its kind since the Food and Drug Administration aimed to loosen restrictions on pharmaceutical drug requirements last August with the introduction of a set of guidances. A complete version of the study is expected to be released in August.

Leading an address on the initial findings was Kessler, dean of the School of Medicine at Yale University, who had served as the FDA commissioner for seven years. Kessler cautioned advertisers against the proliferation of direct-to-consumer prescription drug advertising. He assured those attending the conference that the commercials will one day soon be fodder for a product liability lawsuit.

The Time Warner study also polled physicians who also indicated that magazines, more than television, communicate more effectively to consumers. The study said that 49 percent of participating physicians said print provides a better forum for the major statement of side effects, while only 27 percent of physicians said television provides a better forum. Additionally, while 47 percent of physicians polled said print is more effective for complete disclosure of all risks, only 22 percent said television is the better medium for risk disclosure.

The study is not without its critics, however. One observer said the study is laden with agenda-driven objectives and is an effort to redirect ad dollars by pharmaceutical advertisers back to print from television.

"They are trying to preserve print dollars," said Jim Sandino, managing director of direct-to-consumer pharmaceutical agency, Lowe McAdams. "Dollars are shifting from print to television because advertisers are finding print less cost-effective than television."

The Time Warner division defended its methodology and results. "One of the reasons we did this was to introduce a study that was unbiased toward any specific medium," Kassan said. "The results are in keeping with some other research. I don't know that we were surprised that the results came back regarding print, but it was done against a balanced population. The results follow what is consistent with how Kessler felt and a lot of industry experts believe is the whole issue of pharmaceutical advertising -- it really addresses the need for consumers to have information."

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