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BMS curtails early DTC

Marketers in the US are overhauling their approach to consumer advertising as the industry faces further scrutiny and criticism

Bristol-Myers Squibb (BMS) has said that it will stop mass media advertising for all new brands during their first year on the market as its adopts a code of conduct for consumer advertising.

The code, which is posted on the company's website, includes pledges to advertise on TV at appropriate times of the day and consider the unintended impact of the campaign. It also promises to communicate risks and benefits in easy-to-understand language.

BMS' decision comes as pharma companies that have become disenchanted with TV advertising question the value of TV advertising, asking if the medium really is worth the high prices they pay for it; these include Pfizer, Novartis, Bayer and AstraZeneca.

The industry has voiced concerns over the tone and timing of ads, in particular those advertising ED treatments, which appear throughout the daytime TV schedule. Some industry experts are fearful that while heavy advertising of a drug at launch is often good for sales it could compromise safety as not enough is known about the potential side effects.

BMS plans to move away from direct-to-consumer (DTC) advertising in favour of direct-to-patient (DTP), it revealed at an Eye For Pharma Marketing RoI conference in Philadelphia this month.

The company plans to shift its focus to giving information tailored to the needs of people already receiving treatment, leaving behind the blunderbuss approach aimed at appealing to the entire population.

A spokesman for BMS was quick to point out that the move does not signal an outright ban on advertising for the first 12 months and stressed that the company plans to continue disease awareness campaigns and promotion to doctors during the period.

In 2004, the company spent $35m, over half of its $61m promotional spend, on TV advertising, according to figures from market research agency, Nielsen Monitor-Plus.

While spending on DTC in the US has skyrocketed, patient demand has remained stagnant, causing many firms to review how much they spend on each promotional medium. Some companies have been disappointed with the return from TV advertising - Bayer saw modest results from the Levitra ads at the Super Bowl.

A number of top 10 pharma companies are exploring other media outlets to get their message across and the internet offers the industry the opportunity to get its message across for as little as a fifth of the cost of the equivalent on TV, according to one report. A number of big-name companies, including Novartis, are starting to see a significant increase in their e-marketing budgets.

There are some however, who are taking a more cynical view of the pharma industry's motives for overhauling its TV advertising strategies, noting that Congress is eyeing possible reforms to DTC over concerns of frivolous spending.

2nd September 2008

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