Pfizer Writes New Media Script, Imposes Six-Month Moratorium

Pharma giant Pfizer Inc. Thursday said it would refrain from airing ads for new drugs for six months after their release, part of what it said would be a wide-ranging shift in its direct-to-consumer media strategy.

Pfizer said that the changes were a result of the adoption this month by the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) of a set of "Guiding Principals" designed to address the growing concerns of public advocacy groups and legislators.

Pfizer also said the new policies would include submitting all new and significantly changed direct-to-consumer advertisements for comment to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), including language in television, print, and Web advertising offering information about alternative treatments, and providing a more detailed explanation of the risks associated with a given drug.

TV commercials for Viagra, Pfizer also noted, would now be broadcast only during programs that have more than 90 percent adult viewership.



The "Guiding Principals" adopted by PhRMA earlier this month--which drug companies would be responsible for implementing themselves--include targeting of television advertisements for prescription drugs with age and audience appropriateness in mind, a promotion of health and disease awareness as a key part of advertising, and an encouragement of the use of assistance programs among low-income and uninsured consumers.

Direct-to-consumer advertising has come under fire on Capitol Hill in recent months, with Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist last month calling on pharmaceutical companies to observe a two-year moratorium on direct-to-consumer advertising during a drug's first two years on the market, and also calling on the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to review the Food and Drug Administration's (FDA) oversight of prescription drug activities and the pharmaceutical industry's spending on advertising.

Iowa Republican Sen. Charles Grassley and Connecticut Democrat Sen. Christopher Dodd proposed the Food and Drug Administration Safety Act this year, which mandates that advertisements for drugs that have been on the market for less than two years and drugs with a known safety risk be reviewed by the FDA before the advertisements air to the public.

Today's move by Pfizer left some of the drug industry's critics unimpressed.

"I think the real purpose behind this is a safety issue," said Rob Schneider, director of the prescription reform project for the advocacy group Consumers Union, noting that Pfizer's moves fell short of those demanded by Frist and others.

"It makes sense to delay advertising when a product is new on the market, and you want to give some time between trials where a few hundred people are taking it and when several million people might be taking it," Schneider said. "But it doesn't seem to be a sincere change."

Carat handles Pfizer's media planning and buying.

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