Direct-to-consumer spending increased from $3.2 billion to almost $4.1 billion between 2003 and 2004, the biggest leap since the category began in 1997. While
other US industries are just getting their footing back after a prolonged economic slump, DTC advertising, as in previous
years, seems unaffected and continues to thrive. Even in the wake of FDA's virtual shutdown of the lucrative COX-2 inhibitor
market, both DTC and professional promotional spending have, so far, remained in tact. (See "TV Dominates")
"[Spending] keeps going up, in part, because it works," says Elizabeth Boehm, a senior analyst with Forrester Research's healthcare
and life sciences group. Deep pharma pockets help, too. "When you have a relatively open budget, you can spend more on a product."
Given the industry's historic aversion to knee-jerk reactions, it may be too early to judge the effect, if any, the COX-2
fiasco will have on consumer and professional promotion dollars. Pfizer's Celebrex (celecoxib) and Bextra (valdecoxib) and
Merck's Vioxx (rofecoxib) were three of the top 10 products in US professional promotional spending in 2004, according to
IMS Health. Overall, COX-2 inhibitors were the third-leading therapeutic class in professional spend dollars. However, Boehm
predicts the COX-2 shakeup will have little effect on promotional spend levels overall.
"Pain medicines are not necessarily the driving force of promotional spending," she says. "There's always going to be a new
drug to promote. In the beginning the big thing was allergy medications, now, I think, the next big category will be the statins."
Following several years of sluggish growth, journal ad spending grew 11 percent between 2003 and 2004, according to Kathleen
Henderson, senior vice president and general manager of PERQ/HCI. Much of this growth, she says, was fueled by ads for psychotherapeutics
(antidepressants), neurological products (anti-migraine, Alzheimer's therapies) and cardiovascular (cholesterol-reducing)
drugs. Spending in allergy journals fell 46 percent as several popular allergy medications switched to OTC status. But this
bump in journal ad spending, warns Henderson, doesn't necessarily mean professional journals showed a period of healthy ad
growth across the board. (See "Reaching Healthcare Professionals" )
"Although several journal types, such as psychology, neurology, pain management, and cardiology have double-digit increases,
the market as a whole is only up modestly," Henderson says. "This is due in large part to the fact that several of the new
products that are advertising heavily do not place a lot of space in primary care publications, as they are targeted more
Henderson notes this is a change from the early-to-mid nineties, when many new cardiovascular products were advertised to
primary care doctors as well as to specialists.
From the company perspective, Henderson says, Pfizer has already scaled back its journal ad spending in first quarter of 2005,
compared to the same time period in 2004, putting Forest in the lead. "Pfizer needs to save some money and deal with some
legal issues," Henderson says.