The 20 best-selling prescription medications in 2001 included three antidepressants -- Zoloft (sertraline), Paxil and Prozac (fluoxetine) -- and two antipsychotics -- Zyprexa (olanzapine) and Risperdal (risperidone). Paxil ranked third in DTC advertising expenditures at $95.8 million, according to NDCHealth. Another study, published in the Wall Street Journal, put spending on Paxil ads at $65.12 million, and DTC advertising for Zoloft at $55.93 million.
Earlier this year, the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation published a study titled "Trends in Direct-to-Consumer Advertising of Prescription Drugs." Among the findings:
- Spending on direct-to-consumer advertising increased from $266 million in 1994 to nearly $2.5 billion in 2000. Much of the growth can be attributed to a greater use of television commercials to promote drugs: "In 1994, television advertising accounted for roughly 13 percent of the DTC advertising spending, while in 2000 over 60 percent of the DTC advertising spending was on television advertising."
- Physician promotion -- detailing, sampling conferences and journal advertising -- still accounts for nearly 85% of the total spending on prescription drug promotion. Spending on physician-oriented promotion increased by roughly 58% between 1996 and 2000, the report noted, but DTC's share of the promotional budget rose from 9% to 15% during that period.
- Promotional expenditures as a percentage of total sales has remained relatively constant at around 14% a year. "Marketing budgets are not claiming a larger share of the sales dollar today than they did in the early 1990s," the report stated. Still, promotion represents a larger percentage of the sales dollar in the pharmaceutical field than it does in most other industries, and DTC's share of the pharmaceutical sales dollar has grown from 1.2% to 2.2%.
- Direct-to-consumer advertising is concentrated on a relatively small number of products, but its impact is substantial. The 20 products with the highest levels of DTC spending in 2000 accounted for about 59% of the total industry spending on consumer-oriented promotion. But those 20 drugs are among the 50 best-selling prescription medications. "In addition, high DTC advertising spending appears to be associated with relatively new products that have no generic competitors," the report states. "In some cases, products at the end of their patent protection advertise directly to consumers to promote their product for a new indication or because they are switching to over-the-counter status and need to build brand equity."
According to NDCHealth, DTC advertising in 2001 accounted for 23% of the total promotional budget for all prescription medications, while journal advertising fell to only 3% of the total.