Which Annoying Pharma Ads Work Best

By Lisa LaMotta  JAN 25, 2010 8:10 AM

Get your ED fix, birth control pills, and eye lash enhancers here!


Even in the age of DVR, it’s hard to avoid television advertisements for pharmaceuticals. Some of those commercials make you cringe as you encroach on a couple’s intimate moment during an erectile dysfunction ad, while others seem to make you wonder what a girl frolicking through a meadow has to do with birth control.

These direct-to-consumer advertisements are there to pique your interest and make you start asking questions about medications you may not necessarily need -- they're truly made for the hypochondriacs of the world. Some doctors, lawmakers, and even industry insiders think that marketing to consumers who are usually uneducated about the products is unethical. Yet, whether or not these advertisements are ethical doesn’t diminish the fact that they're effective.

Almost 25% of American consumers have requested a prescription based on an ad, and 75% of those had their requests honored, according to research from the University of Davis in California.

Direct-to-consumer advertising began in the early 1990s and is now regulated by the FDA. Pharma companies forked over $4.7 billion on ads in 2008, with $1.6 billion being spent on television ads alone, according to a report by the Congressional Budget Office.

(See, Big Pharma's Sick Ad Budgets)

The money spent on these ads is meant to drive traffic to the drug websites so that consumers can learn more about the product. In a recent study by Manhattan Research, a health-care and pharmaceutical industry consulting group, birth control and erectile dysfunction drugs garnered the most interest on the Web from people who had seen the television ads.

“In today’s multi-channel world, marketing initiatives must be designed to work together for optimal results,” says Meredith Ressi, vice president of research at Manhattan Research. “While the television ad is critical to building awareness, for many patients, the Internet is a next stop for learning more before going on to speak to their physician about a product.”

The Manhattan Research report showed that Merck’s (MRK) once-monthly birth control insert NuvaRing got the most eyes on the Web, followed by Allergan’s (AGN) new lash enhancing product Latisse, and Eli Lilly’s (LLY) erectile dysfunction drug Cialis rounding out the top three.

Two other ED drugs landed on the top 10 list -- Pfizer’s (PFE) Viagra and Levitra, which is co-marketed by Bayer Pharmaceuticals (BAYRY), GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), and Schering-Plough (MRK). Glaxo’s once-monthly osteoporosis medication Boniva was number four on the list. Meanwhile, Barr Pharmaceuticals (BRL) birth control pill Yaz landed on the list, as well as Merck’s HPV vaccine Gardasil. The list was rounded out by Sepracor’s sleep aid Lunesta.

(See, Gardasil: The Merck Blockbuster That Wasn’t)

According to the CBO report, ED drugs command the highest amount of DTC advertising spend at $320 million, while osteoporosis drugs and sleep aids followed closely behind. (See, Obesity and ED: Two Big Markets, One Tiny Company)

The list shows that women are following up on the Internet more often than men to find further information about the products that interest them. The list included two types of birth control, a cervical cancer vaccine, an osteoporosis drug for women after menopause, and an eye lash enhancer.

One of the most striking features of the top 10 list was how few anti-depressants were included. The only depression/schizophrenia treatment in the top 10 was Bristol-Myers Squibb’s (BMY) Abilify.

This comes as a shock because of the number of ads that are run for depression medications and the amount of money spent on them.

Bristol-Myers spent $150 million on DTC advertising for Abilify in the first nine months of 2009, according to Nielsen, up 75% from the first nine months of 2008. (Meanwhile, spending on DTC advertising as a whole has decreased during the recession). Eli Lilly spent $141 million on its depression med Cymbalta during the same time period -- more than it spent on its DTC advertising for Cialis, according to Medical Marketing & Media.
No positions in stocks mentioned.

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