Survey Yields Ill Feelings About Health, Growth of DTC Advertising

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A new healthcare study focusing on direct-to-consumer pharmaceutical advertising commissioned by Time Inc., New York, is raising concerns among drug marketers and healthcare leaders alike.The survey, "DTC 2000: Measuring Awareness and Impact of DTC Pharmaceutical Advertising," claims side-effects warnings in advertising are turning off many potential customers, especially when broadcast advertising or short-form direct response television is the primary medium used.


Caryn Klein, director of advertising research for corporate marketing information at Time Inc., said the study would lead to new insight on how consumers perceive DTC advertising.


"Confirming the trends from prior studies, we continue to see that television and magazines have different strengths as marketing tools for prescription medications," Klein said.


Consumers are continuing to use information they obtain from DTC advertising to make their healthcare choices, but in different ways according to the media from which they receive the information. For instance, respondents indicated by a difference of 61 percent to 38 percent that they were more likely not to take an advertised drug if they were put off by the side-effects information they received from a TV commercial rather than from a magazine ad. Yet paradoxically, awareness of DTC advertising is reportedly up from 7 percent to 90 percent since 1998, following the Food and Drug Administration's decision in August 1997 to relax its guidelines for TV ads.


In addition, the study found that the Internet does not drive company and brand awareness, noting that only 1 percent of respondents recall seeing DTC ads on the Internet.


"Although pharmaceutical companies have built extensive Web sites that provide information about medical conditions and promote their prescription drug products, the survey data suggests that consumers perceive these sites as information tools, not advertisements for specific products," Klein said.


But Lee Badgett, an economist at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, said, "It becomes harder to draw solid conclusions that are statistically relevant from data if it's been broken down into too many categories."


Although statistically relevant on the whole, Time Inc.'s sample of 1,000 households surveyed people only over the phone. Controlled-environment focus groups led by moderators examining various DTC advertising approaches were not part of the study. And no comparative analysis of participants' impressions of ads was made between subsets of men and women broken down by race, income or even the likelihood that someone might be searching for a particular drug.


However, the study did overwhelmingly show that magazines rated higher over other advertising media in stimulating respondents' recall of toll-free numbers, by a difference of 70 percent to 44 percent for Web sites.


The implications of the findings were debated by David A. Kessler, dean of the Yale University School of Medicine, and George D. Lundberg, editor in chief of Medscape.com, during a recent conference in New York moderated by Donna Hill Howes, director of health education for Time Inc. Health.


Kessler, the former commissioner of the FDA, noted that prescription drug prices have skyrocketed in recent years but said that DTC advertising was not the sole cause. Drug manufacturers are still "betting on the doctor-patient relationship to drive pharmaceutical sales," he said, and DTC could play a role in that regard. However, Kessler expressed concerns regarding the emergence of thousands of healthcare-related Web sites from around the world and how pharmaceutical companies should assess and manage their legitimacy for prospective DTC advertising. n
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