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 Graphene gives a tremendous boost to future terahertz cameras
16.04.2019 | ICFO-The Institute of Photonic Sciences

nachricht Mount Kilimanjaro: Ecosystems in Global Change
28.03.2019 | Julius-Maximilians-Universität Würzburg

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: Explosion on Jupiter-sized star 10 times more powerful than ever seen on our sun

A stellar flare 10 times more powerful than anything seen on our sun has burst from an ultracool star almost the same size as Jupiter

  • Coolest and smallest star to produce a superflare found
  • Star is a tenth of the radius of our Sun
  • Researchers led by University of Warwick could only see...

Im Focus: Quantum simulation more stable than expected

A localization phenomenon boosts the accuracy of solving quantum many-body problems with quantum computers which are otherwise challenging for conventional computers. This brings such digital quantum simulation within reach on quantum devices available today.

Quantum computers promise to solve certain computational problems exponentially faster than any classical machine. “A particularly promising application is the...

Im Focus: Largest, fastest array of microscopic 'traffic cops' for optical communications

The technology could revolutionize how information travels through data centers and artificial intelligence networks

Engineers at the University of California, Berkeley have built a new photonic switch that can control the direction of light passing through optical fibers...

Im Focus: A long-distance relationship in femtoseconds

Physicists observe how electron-hole pairs drift apart at ultrafast speed, but still remain strongly bound.

Modern electronics relies on ultrafast charge motion on ever shorter length scales. Physicists from Regensburg and Gothenburg have now succeeded in resolving a...

Im Focus: Researchers 3D print metamaterials with novel optical properties

Engineers create novel optical devices, including a moth eye-inspired omnidirectional microwave antenna

A team of engineers at Tufts University has developed a series of 3D printed metamaterials with unique microwave or optical properties that go beyond what is...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

VideoLinks
Industry & Economy
Event News

Revered mathematicians and computer scientists converge with 200 young researchers in Heidelberg!

17.04.2019 | Event News

First dust conference in the Central Asian part of the earth’s dust belt

15.04.2019 | Event News

Fraunhofer FHR at the IEEE Radar Conference 2019 in Boston, USA

09.04.2019 | Event News

 
Latest News

New automated biological-sample analysis systems to accelerate disease detection

18.04.2019 | Life Sciences

Explosion on Jupiter-sized star 10 times more powerful than ever seen on our sun

18.04.2019 | Physics and Astronomy

New eDNA technology used to quickly assess coral reefs

18.04.2019 | Life Sciences

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>