Pitching Patches: Drug Companies Target the Consumer

Article excerpt

With 60 million Americans smoking and 19 million of them wanting to quit at any given moment, makersof a new type anti-smoking device clearly feel they're onto a good thing. Called transdermal medication, these skinpatch systems are designed to help smokers kick the habit by releasing nicotine through the skin.

Since the market for anti-smoking prescription drugs could reach $1 billion by 1995, drug manufacturers have found it makes sense to pitch the advertising directly to the money even if there are some difficulties in doing so.

Students of consumer advertising may have noticed an unusual sidelight to the proliferating print and television ads for Nicoderm and Habitrol, two of the brands currently being marketed. Because both drugs can be bought only by prescription, the Food and Drug Administration mandates that any advertising that includes both the name of the drug and what it treats must also include a summary of prescribing information. A summary is that intimidating run-down in microscopic print, listing dosage, warnings and contraindications more likely found on the pages of the Journal of the American Medical Association than in the New York Times or Sports Illustrated.

GETTING AROUND THE FINE PRINT

For a television ad to contain the summary, it would have to show a slow crawl of small print on the screen--expensive and certainly not entertaining. So television ads skirt this requirement by not mentioning the drug's function at all--just the name (repeatedly) and a suggestion to see a doctor for details.

There now are three patches: Habitrol (Ciba-Geigy Corp.), Nicoderm (Marion Merrell Dow Inc.) and Prostep (Lederie Laboratories, a division of American Cyanamid Co.), all of them FDA-approved within a threemonth period. (At this writing, Prostep had not begun its advertising and a fourth patch system, this one from Warner-Lambert Company, was under FDA consideration.) The quick proliferation of the market can work to the drug companies' advantage. With so many ads soon to be out there, the drug makers can aly pear to have saturation ad coverage without the expense, even if they do have to pay for space for the summary in print ads. The danger, however, is that all the brand names will blur in the consumer's mind.

"We feel that the sheer impact [of all the ads] will bring people into their doctors' offices," says Patricia L. …