Direct to Consumer: Is Branding Enough?

Reminder ads play an interesting role in the new DTC era.
Apr 01, 2005

Amy Lynn Tobbagi
You couldn't have missed Viagra's (sildenafil) "Devil" campaign. It's the one where the "V" in the Viagra logo turns into a pair of devil's horns atop a middle-aged man's head. Well, FDA didn't miss it either. Back in November 2004, the agency sent Pfizer a warning letter stating that its reminder ads for Viagra lacked risk information.

Some executives were taken aback. Of course the ad didn't include risk information, they reasoned. The spots were reminder ads, and in keeping with FDA regulation, they promoted only a product's name, without including the product's benefits or risks. But because Viagra had become so well known—the Kleenex of the erectile dysfunction (ED) category—FDA felt the ads were promoting the ED indication without the appropriate risk information.

Brand breakdown Some pharmaceutical marketers consider reminder ads an important part of the media mix. Spots like this Zelnorm commercial prompt patients to ask their doctors about the product, and remind them to take their medications or go to the drug's website for more information. They also help instill brand recognition among consumers, which makes TV advertising a cost-effective buy.
"The problem becomes, with a name so powerful and obvious, if you don't mention the risk factors, patients are not getting what they need," says Herb Ehrenthal, vice president, advertising and marketing communications for Schering-Plough.

fda watch With Celebrex, I play the long version," says a female voiceover in this Celebrex reminder ad. Such comments can bother consumers—and FDA—because they tend to confuse more than they inform. Reminder ads that went beyond the regulated intent were the most common violation by pharma companies in 2004, according to DDMAC.
Part of the educational value of DTC comes with a candid representation of the risk information for the drug. In the wake of Vioxx, some industry observers say FDA is questioning if reminder ads can fulfill that goal. Certainly, the tactic has come under more scrutiny: Reminder ads that went beyond the regulated intent were the most common violation in 2004, according to Thomas Abrams, director of FDA's Division of Drug Marketing, Advertising and Communications.

"DTC should be educational," says Abrams. "It creates the question: Can it be a reminder ad if consumers don't know what the drug is for?"

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