Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Value of direct-to-consumer drug advertising oversold

03.09.2008
Direct-to-consumer advertising may not be giving big pharma such a big bang for their buck after all. Despite the billions spent on bringing drug marketing campaigns straight into patients' living rooms, such strategies have a modest effect at best—and in some cases, no effect at all.

"People tend to think that if direct-to-consumer advertising wasn't effective, pharma wouldn't be doing it," says Harvard Medical School professor Stephen Soumerai, principal investigator on the study. "But as it turns out, decisions to market directly to consumers is based on scant data."

This study was based at the Department of Ambulatory Care and Prevention of Harvard Medical School and Harvard Pilgrim Health Care and appears September 2 online in the British Medical Journal. It is the first-ever controlled study of direct-to-consumer advertising (DTCA) of pharmaceuticals.

Currently, the United States and New Zealand are the only countries that allow drug companies to advertise directly to patients. When the U.S. Food and Drug Administration eased advertising restrictions on the pharmaceutical industry in 1997, consumer advertising jumped 330 percent over the next 10 years. As of 2005, pharma was spending about $5 billion annually on such campaigns. Some data implied that such ads increased prescriptions, but these studies simply correlated ads with sales, begging the question, are drugs that sell more simply advertised more?

But examining the effects of advertising on sales via a controlled study is problematic. Given the overwhelming amount of advertising in the U.S., how do you find two groups that are very similar, yet one is exposed to pharmaceutical advertising and the other isn't?

The answer: Canada.

DTCA is illegal in Canada. Not surprisingly, however, national borders are leaky and American media—television and magazines and radio, replete with pharma ads—regularly crosses into Canada. As a result, Canadians, like Americans, are swamped with these ads, with one key exception.

All American advertisements are in English. Yet Canada has a significant French-speaking population. In the Canadian province of Quebec, approximately 80 percent of its 7.5 million population speak French as their first language, and tend to get most of their news from French-language media. As a result, residents of Quebec, on the whole, are far less exposed to DTCA than other Canadians.

Quebec, then, functioned as a control group for the study. The researchers compared prescription rates for advertised drugs in English-speaking Canadian provinces with rates in Quebec, where residents were purportedly less exposed to those same ads.

"It's not an absolutely perfect control group," says Michael Law, first author on the paper. "There's obviously a small percentage of Quebec residents who are exposed to English language media. But as control groups go for this sort of observational study, it's about as good as you get."

Law and Soumerai chose to look at three specific drugs: Enbrel (rheumatoid arthritis), Nasonex (nasal allergies), and Zelnorm (irritable bowel sydrome). All three drugs were on the market for at least one year before the DTCA campaign began, and none were advertised in Canada through "softer" consumer ads, that is, ads that may mention the drug by name without identifying the relevant conditions.

The basic question was simple: did use of these drugs increase faster in English-speaking regions after American DTCA campaigns began?

Using information from IMS Health Canada, a health information company that receives data from a panel of about 2,700 Canadian pharmacies, the researchers analyzed prescription statistics for each of these three drugs for a five-year period.

They found that for two of the drugs, Enbrel and Nasonex, DTCA had no effect whatsoever. Prescription patterns in English-speaking Canada and in Quebec remained identical both before and after DTCA campaigns began.

Sales for Zelnorm, however, did spike noticeably in English-speaking Canada as soon as the ad campaign began. While prescriptions for this drug increased by over 40 percent, this jump was relatively short-lived, and after a few years, prescription rates in both groups resumed identical patterns. A similar analysis of U.S. Medicaid prescriptions found a slightly higher, but similarly brief, jump in sales.

The researchers hypothesize that DTCA may not be as effective as other types of consumer advertising due to the unique complexity of the marketing/sales trajectory.

With a typical consumer product, an individual sees an ad and then can choose to simply go out and buy the item. "But pharmaceuticals aren't typical consumer products," says Soumerai. "A person needs to see an ad, get motivated by that ad, contact their doctor for an appointment, show up at the appointment, communicate both the condition and the drug to the doctor, convince the doctor that this drug is preferable to other alternatives, then actually go out and fill the prescription. This is a chain of events that can break at any point."

This hypothesis may in fact explain the disparate effects of DTCA on these three drugs. For Enbrel and Nasonex, there are a number of over-the-counter and prescription alternatives that doctors would likely recommend as first-line treatments.

Zelnorm, however, was the only drug on the market in both the United States and Canada for constipation-predominant irritable bowel syndrome. The researchers suggest that Zelnorm would have sold very well without the consumer advertising.

In March of 2007, Zelnorm was pulled from the market due to FDA concerns that it may increase risk for heart attack and stroke.

One hundred years of marketing experience and recent studies indicate that face-to-face promotion of drugs to doctors by pharmaceutical representatives is far more effective than DTCA.

David Cameron | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.hms.harvard.edu
http://www.ualberta.ca

More articles from Studies and Analyses:

nachricht New study: How does Europe become a leading player for software and IT services?
03.04.2017 | Fraunhofer-Institut für System- und Innovationsforschung (ISI)

nachricht Reusable carbon nanotubes could be the water filter of the future, says RIT study
30.03.2017 | Rochester Institute of Technology

All articles from Studies and Analyses >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Making lightweight construction suitable for series production

More and more automobile companies are focusing on body parts made of carbon fiber reinforced plastics (CFRP). However, manufacturing and repair costs must be further reduced in order to make CFRP more economical in use. Together with the Volkswagen AG and five other partners in the project HolQueSt 3D, the Laser Zentrum Hannover e.V. (LZH) has developed laser processes for the automatic trimming, drilling and repair of three-dimensional components.

Automated manufacturing processes are the basis for ultimately establishing the series production of CFRP components. In the project HolQueSt 3D, the LZH has...

Im Focus: Wonder material? Novel nanotube structure strengthens thin films for flexible electronics

Reflecting the structure of composites found in nature and the ancient world, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have synthesized thin carbon nanotube (CNT) textiles that exhibit both high electrical conductivity and a level of toughness that is about fifty times higher than copper films, currently used in electronics.

"The structural robustness of thin metal films has significant importance for the reliable operation of smart skin and flexible electronics including...

Im Focus: Deep inside Galaxy M87

The nearby, giant radio galaxy M87 hosts a supermassive black hole (BH) and is well-known for its bright jet dominating the spectrum over ten orders of magnitude in frequency. Due to its proximity, jet prominence, and the large black hole mass, M87 is the best laboratory for investigating the formation, acceleration, and collimation of relativistic jets. A research team led by Silke Britzen from the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy in Bonn, Germany, has found strong indication for turbulent processes connecting the accretion disk and the jet of that galaxy providing insights into the longstanding problem of the origin of astrophysical jets.

Supermassive black holes form some of the most enigmatic phenomena in astrophysics. Their enormous energy output is supposed to be generated by the...

Im Focus: A Quantum Low Pass for Photons

Physicists in Garching observe novel quantum effect that limits the number of emitted photons.

The probability to find a certain number of photons inside a laser pulse usually corresponds to a classical distribution of independent events, the so-called...

Im Focus: Microprocessors based on a layer of just three atoms

Microprocessors based on atomically thin materials hold the promise of the evolution of traditional processors as well as new applications in the field of flexible electronics. Now, a TU Wien research team led by Thomas Müller has made a breakthrough in this field as part of an ongoing research project.

Two-dimensional materials, or 2D materials for short, are extremely versatile, although – or often more precisely because – they are made up of just one or a...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Expert meeting “Health Business Connect” will connect international medical technology companies

20.04.2017 | Event News

Wenn der Computer das Gehirn austrickst

18.04.2017 | Event News

7th International Conference on Crystalline Silicon Photovoltaics in Freiburg on April 3-5, 2017

03.04.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Scientist invents way to trigger artificial photosynthesis to clean air

26.04.2017 | Materials Sciences

Ammonium nitrogen input increases the synthesis of anticarcinogenic compounds in broccoli

26.04.2017 | Agricultural and Forestry Science

SwRI-led team discovers lull in Mars' giant impact history

26.04.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>