Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Vytorin: Two Sources of Angst for DTC

Rep. John Dingell is one source of cholesterol nightmares for Big Pharma advertisers

Schering-Plough and Merck are halting their direct-to-consumer television ads for Vytorin, surely a sound decision given what appears to be a continuing free fall in use of the combination cholesterol therapy after the disclosure of the ENHANCE study results.

Advertisers are worried about the impact on regulation of DTC in general. An excellent piece in Advertising Age spells out some of the concerns.

But just as the ads themselves highlight the "two sources of cholesterol," we think there are really two sources of concern about DTC raised by Vytorin.

The first is regulatory. Attacks on DTC are not going away, so advertisers are right to worry that any ammunition used against one ad can threaten tougher regulation for all. In this case, the Energy & Commerce Committee is already asking the sponsors and FDA to explain why the ads continued running long after the ENHANCE trial was complete.

But the second is more fundamental: the impact that the DTC advertisements themselves had in turning the failed ENHANCE trial into a commercial disaster for the sponsors. You can debate the medical significance of the ENHANCE findings all you want, but you can't debate this: the very success of the DTC campaign in establishing Vytorin as a consumer brand helped make the failed trial much bigger news than it might have been.

Congress doesn't open investigations of drugs no one has heard of. And national newscasts don't cover equivocal study results for drugs no one knows either.

DTC advertising is expensive and controversial. It also can be highly effective at building a brand and driving prescription growth. Any accurate calculation of the risks and benefits to a particular brand, however, has to consider the potential that an advertiser can be a victim of its own success. That surely is one of the lessons of Vytorin.

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