Just call it the Energizer Bunny. Despite drawing fire from consumer
groups, legislators and other concerned critics wanting to curb it,
direct-to-consumer pharmaceutical advertising keeps on going. Yet promotion to professionals still draws the lion's share of promotional spending, according
to a study in The New England Journal of Medicine
Total spending on DTC advertising in the US increased from about $1 million in 1996 to $4 billion in 2005. Yet only 14% of total industry expenditures on pharmaceutical promotion were devoted to DTC advertising in 2005, the study found. As a percentage of sales, it was only 2.6%.
While investments in detailing and journals ads have dwindled
in recent years, personal selling and free samples still command the biggest chunk of the
promotional budget, accounting for some $25 billion. (For samples the figure is
calculated by retail value.) When journal adverts are factored in, that's about
86% of spending.
Some drugs in top-selling classes, such as antidepressants and
antipsychotics, are promoted mostly via reps. As for which drug categories relied
heaviest on DTC, they found that DTC consumed about a third of the budget for proton-pump
inhibitors,statins and erythropoietin drugs.
They also noted a dramatic dip in the number of FDA regulatory
actions regarding DTC advertising in recent years, from 142 in 1997 to only 21
in 2006, reflecting either better industry compliance—due perhaps to
the voluntary PhRMA code—or worsening FDA oversight. The level of
FDA staffing dedicated to review of DTC advertising has not kept pace with the
recent increase in DTC advertising, authors stated. From 2002 to 2006, DTC
advertising was the target of one third to one half of drug promotion violation letters sent by the FDA. Most violations
involved DTC advertising that minimized risks or exaggerated effectiveness.
As most companies begin ad campaigns within a year of drug launch, any
mandatory restrictions on consumer advertising, such as a DTC moratorium, would
be a major shift for most marketers, the researchers added.