Of the 800-plus adults surveyed by pharma market research firm Advanced Analytics, 59 percent said that print ads were effective in describing the risks of a given medication, while 57 percent said that TV ads were effective. Because of their vast blocks of text, DTC print ads had long been considered virtually unreadable--so dense as to preclude even the most ardent information-seekers from slogging through the fine print. TV ads, on the other hand, were believed to present important information about potential health hazards in a straightforward yet appealing manner.
"There's really not too much difference between TV and print, which goes against what most people thought," says Advanced Analytics President Morris Whitcup. "They seem to be equally fulfilling the same function."
Whitcup declined to speculate on how the survey results might influence buying decisions. Still, it stands to reason that if print proves more effective in consumers' minds, DTC pharma advertisers could steer dollars away from pricier broadcast and cable shows. Considering that the pharmaceutical industry spent $2.6 billion on DTC advertising in 2002, even a small percentage shift could prove to be a sorely needed boost for the magazine business. Figures for 2003 are not yet available, but analysts have predicted a 2 percent to 4 percent increase over 2002 levels.
As for the study's other findings, Whitcup noted with some surprise that consumers are paying more attention to DTC ads than ever before. "To be honest, I thought they mostly tuned them out," he admits. "The ads have caused consumers to ask more questions and to become more cautious overall."
According to the survey, seven out of ten adults pay "close attention" to information about risks and side effects in DTC advertising, while two out of three adults find info in DTC drug ads to be "useful." Three out of four have changed their behavior (by asking more questions, etc.) as a result of the discussion of side effects in print and television DTC ads.
The study also revealed a higher-than-expected level of dissatisfaction with physicians' efforts to communicate information about risks posed by prescription drugs. A mere four out of ten adults think their doctors are doing a "very good" job in explaining the potential risks; one in seven believe their doctors are not doing an "acceptable" job. "Physicians are seeing an average of 125 patients per week. They might not have the time to explain every potential issue, which is where the ads are really helping," Whitcup explains.
In the months ahead, Whitcup expects to see a gradual increase in the number of pharma categories that explore DTC advertising. "We're seeing an explosion in ED (erectile dysfunction), but there are other areas where there's room for increased interest," he predicts, identifying psychiatric drugs as a likely growth candidate. "Each few years there's a hot new category for DTC."