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Study Diagnoses Health Of Rx Ad Spending, Prognosis Remains Unclear

What comes first? The need for pharmaceutical advertising or the advertising itself?

A study released this week by Consumer Health Sciences is the latest in a line promoting the value of pharmaceutical advertising, which has exploded in the 10 years since the federal government loosened rules about drug advertising. But it remains controversial, as critics have wondered whether the ads themselves generate demand instead of solving existing medical conditions.

The consumers who respond to DTC advertising score lower in physical and mental health and spend more money on prescriptions than the general population. Specifically, they're 29 percent more likely to have concurrent diseases, spend 21 percent more time going to the doctor's, and buy 29 percent more prescription drugs than the general population.

Although DTC isn't the biggest part of the marketing spend--one-on-one physician visits and product sampling are still tops--it's still worth a lot to the media companies and the agencies that create and place the ads. DTC grew at an explosive rate between 1995 and 1999, increasing 53.7 percent a year from $200 million in 1995 to $1.5 billion in 1999.

Jane A. Donohue, chief executive officer of Consumer Health Services, wasn't available Wednesday for an interview. But in a prepared statement, she said that the study suggests that the DTC advertising is reaching the people who need it most.

"It appears that marketers are most often reaching and motivating their primary consumer targets with their advertising," she said.

She acknowledged that critics believe DTC advertising generates the need for pharmaceuticals, but said the study's results addressed that.

"If we only saw that DTC responders went to the doctor more often and spent more on prescription medications, the facts would support their theory," she wrote. But that's not the case, she said.

The U.S. portion of the National Health and Wellness Survey comes from research done in 2003, with 36,452 responses.


Paul J. Gough, Media Daily News. July 1, 2004.

Copyright © 2004 MediaPost Communications. All rights reserved.