Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

TV Pitch for Prozac Crosses New Marketing Line

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

TV Pitch for Prozac Crosses New Marketing Line

Article excerpt

In the boldest move yet by a pharmaceutical company to market directly to consumers, the makers of the anti-depressant Prozac have produced a 30-minute television infomercial to promote the prescription-only drug.

The commercial, which is aimed mostly at women, will air in the middle of the night and on weekends, when company marketers believe more depressed people will be watching.

By borrowing a form long used by makers of everything from cosmetics to exercise equipment to food dehydrators to sell a powerful psychiatric drug, Prozac manufacturer Eli Lilly & Co. is stepping aggressively up to the plate in a controversial new area of marketing that many pharmaceutical companies see as their best hope for new sales in the era of managed care.

More and more, since rules on advertising drugs on television were eased in late 1997, drug makers are turning to consumers, rather than doctors and hospitals, to create demand for their products.

The question of marketing a psychiatric drug directly to consumers, however, goes to the heart of the controversy over whether pharmaceuticals should be advertised on television. Prozac, unlike impotency and allergy drugs that also get wide airplay, can have psychological side effects and is aimed at treating a condition that is often difficult to treat.

It's a trap," said George Gerbner, a telecommunications professor at Temple University in Philadelphia and author of the book Alcohol, Tobacco and Other Drugs in the Mass Media. "They're trying to appeal to and exploit the most vulnerable people."

The Prozac commercial, which appears to be the first long-form advertisement for a psychiatric drug, is part of Lilly's bold campaign to shore up the $2.8 billion drug's lead among anti-depressants.

It is accompanied by a Prozac Web page and 30-second commercials that direct viewers to an 800-number for information on depression and Prozac.

The idea, said Dan Hasler, president of marketing for Eli Lilly U.S.A., is to reach people who might be depressed, and encourage them to seek treatment.

Marketing directly to consumers, Hasler and others in the pharmaceutical industry have said, arms people with information they can use when dealing with their doctors and health plans. …

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