Drug-ads climb 9%

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The Philadelphia Inquirer, 11 Oct 2006

PHILADELPHIA - If you've seen green butterflies gently fluttering everywhere in the last year, you're not hallucinating.

Advertisements for Lunesta, the sleeping pill marketed with an animated butterfly by Sepracor Inc., of Cambridge, Mass., almost single-handedly turned around a slide in the industry's drug-ad spending from the first six months of last year to the same period this year, according to TNS Media Intelligence.

After stagnating in the wake of Merck & Co. Inc.'s 2004 recall of its blockbuster pain reliever Vioxx, total spending on drug advertising between the periods rose 9 percent, to $2.46 billion from $2.26 billion. In the comparable period from 2004 to 2005, spending had been flat on the ads, a powerful marketing tool for the industry, as well as a key revenue source for ad firms and media.

Sepracor's 286 percent increase in Lunesta ad spending between the periods, from $41.9 million last year to $161.9 million this year, reflects ferocious competition for the allegiance of the sleepless among us. It far eclipsed Sanofi-Aventis' spending on Ambien, which is about to lose patent protection and get low-cost generic copycats.

Merck's recall of Vioxx due to safety problems had triggered a backlash over advertising, among other things. The industry responded by clamping down on spending, toning down ads, and adopting its first voluntary advertising code in August 2005.

The restrictions included a cutback on TV ads for erectile dysfunction. According to TNS, Eli Lilly & Co. reduced spending on Cialis ads 80 percent in the first half this year over last year, to $16.5 million from $83.9 million. Bayer Pharmaceuticals, which markets Levitra along with GlaxoSmithKline PLC and Schering-Plough Corp., reduced ad spending 29 percent this year after cutting it 46 percent the year before, TNS said.

Tellingly, this year's spending increase so far has been concentrated on old media. The amount spent on magazine ads was up 30 percent in the first quarter this year compared with the same period last year, pulling up the total, TNS said.

But to the consternation of some marketers, drug-ad spending continued to decline in all other media over the last two years, including newspapers and the Internet, with the biggest amount coming out of TV. That adds up to a still-dismal picture for some marketers.

"Although the number may be up generally, it's because of certain brands," said Robert Nauman, a principal at BioPharma Advisors L.L.C., a consulting firm in Research Triangle Park, N.C., that promotes online marketing.

"TV ads really lost a lot. It was plowed back into bottom lines, to make bottom lines bigger. It was not spent elsewhere," Nauman said. "Total marketing dollars are getting squeezed pretty significantly."

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