Directtoconsumer Advertising

In the mid-1980s, two pharmaceutical companies began direct-to-consumer advertising (DTC). Pfizer led the way with its health-care series of ads to the general public. Merrell Dow was next, using DTC ads to inform the public that physicians had a new treatment to help smokers who wanted to stop smoking. When the company's new, nonsedating antihistamine became available, it used DTC ads to tell allergy sufferers that physicians now had a new treatment for allergies. The ads did not mention the name of the products; rather, they asked patients with specific problems or symptoms to see their physician.

The next phase of DTC advertising led to ads in magazines and newspapers that mentioned the name of the product and its indication for use. The advertising of prescription drugs on television or radio remained greatly restricted at this time since it was not possible to include the necessary brief summary of prescribing information on the air. Because of this limitation, the ads on television or radio had to focus on either the name of the product or the indication for the product.

To promote Nicorette, a NICOTINE-containing gum designed to help smokers stop smoking, Mer-rell Dow advertised it on television with the message that Nicorette was now available at phamacies but only by prescription and under a doctor's supervision.

According to FDA rules at that time, Merrell Dow could not say that Nicorette was useful in helping smokers who wanted to stop smoking since it had included the name of the product in the commercial. When a company has the only—or the major—product in the market, this approach can be very effective because it increases awareness among patients that a new treatment is available and influences them to see their doctors.

In 1997 the FDA changed the regulations regarding DTC advertising of prescription products on television and radio. It now allows both the name of the product and indications for it to be advertised, as long as the main precautions or warnings are given in the commercial. This has led to many prescription products being advertised on television, such as Rogaine, Claritin, Allegra, Viagra, Pravachol, Prilosec, and others. Nicorette by this time had been cleared by the FDA to be sold over-the-counter and, since it no longer required a prescription, the product was no longer governed by FDA rules but rather by FTC regulations.

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