CAMPAIGN REPORT ON HEALTHCARE: Lifestyle drugs as brands - With other European countries finding ways to charge for ’lifestyle’ drugs, prescription treatments could find themselves becoming leading brand names, Robert Gray reports

By ROBERT GRAY, campaignlive.co.uk, Friday, 03 March 2000 12:00AM

The term ’lifestyle drugs’ means everything and nothing. Like ’political correctness’ or ’spin doctoring’ its use can cause confusion and offence, especially to manufacturers, who are concerned that serious products become trivialised by being labelled ’lifestyle’. Yet, misleading though the term often is, it goes some way towards describing what is a relatively modern phenomenon and includes some already famous brands - despite a ban on advertising prescription-only drugs direct to the consumer. Brands like Viagra, which is in talks with agencies about a pan-European ad campaign, are unlikely to want to throw away that fame.

The term ’lifestyle drugs’ means everything and nothing. Like

’political correctness’ or ’spin doctoring’ its use can cause confusion

and offence, especially to manufacturers, who are concerned that serious

products become trivialised by being labelled ’lifestyle’. Yet,

misleading though the term often is, it goes some way towards describing

what is a relatively modern phenomenon and includes some already famous

brands - despite a ban on advertising prescription-only drugs direct to

the consumer. Brands like Viagra, which is in talks with agencies about

a pan-European ad campaign, are unlikely to want to throw away that

fame.



Though they belong to different clinical areas, the anti-impotence drug,

Viagra; the depression treatment, Prozac; the obesity compound, Xenical;

the hair restorer, Propecia; and Seroxat, which is used to treat

depression and social phobias, are all examples of ’lifestyle drugs’.

They are also all affected by the reluctance of the cash-strapped NHS to

pay for their prescription. The argument runs that these products are

more to do with improving the quality of life than a necessity for

treating disease - though in some clinical fields that assertion is open

to dispute. As such, they might better be paid for by the consumer.



The difficulty of the situation is that these drugs are powerful both in

their medical effects and their impact on the public consciousness.



As people are taking ever greater responsibility for their own health,

they are demanding more information on products and expect access to

them.



But there’s a reason why these drugs are only available on

prescription.



David Wilson, head of media at Pfizer, which produces Viagra, says:

’We’ve suffered this stigma of Viagra being a lifestyle drug. But it’s a

serious treatment for a serious condition that often masks other serious

conditions. Patients should receive a full check-up and diagnosis from

doctors before taking it.’



Under UK and European Community regulations, prescription drugs cannot

be promoted direct to the consumer. This includes a ban on DTC

advertisements that carry brand names. Under the Medicines (Advertising)

Regulations of 1993, it is a criminal offence for any person to issue an

advertisement to the public ’which is likely to lead to the use of’ a

medicine supplied on prescription only. However, health education,

corporate advertising, editorial comment, information to the media,

financial information and opinions of independent third parties are all

legal, provided they are genuine and do not amount to disguised

advertising.



That is why much of the communications activity in the market is

currently driven by PR. The question is, how long is this

sustainable?



The pressure on NHS budgets and public demand for drugs they have heard

about is sure to lead to change within the next five years. In Germany,

for example, there is an A-D grading system for drugs, where A

acknowledges 100 per cent clinical need, and the state pays, and D means

that if the patient wants it, they have to pay for it.



Martin Godfrey, European managing director for health and pharmaceutical

practices at Hill and Knowlton, says: ’As that begins to happen the next

stage is DTC promotion and advertising. If the public is paying they

need to know about it.’



In the US, where DTC promotion is legal, drugs companies spend well over

dollars 1 billion a year advertising prescription medicines to the

public. Should restrictions on the advertising of lifestyle products be

lifted in Europe, it would certainly be a boon for ad agencies.



The Proprietary Association of Great Britain, the body that represents

medicines available over-the-counter without a prescription, feels that

many lifestyle drugs should be available through pharmacists once their

safety and efficacy has been proved. Sheila Kelly, executive director of

PAGB, says: ’Once you’ve got one prescription you should be able to go

and get it from the pharmacist. People now have the ability to

self-manage. For a couple of years they should be prescribed drugs so

that the adverse reactions profile can be established, but their natural

home is OTC.’



Whether this happens or not, the near certainty is that some form of DTC

communication is coming and brand owners need to adapt. Julie Hayward,

marketing services director of PTK Healthcare, says: ’The prescription

side of the business has a lot to learn about communications to the

consumer.’



Godfrey adds: ’Pharmaceutical companies will need to create stronger

brands. It will widen the playing field, you will find FMCG experts

coming into the market.’ A few years from now, maybe there will be many

brands with the potency of Viagra.





FIVE PRODUCTS WITH THE LIFESTYLE LABEL



Viagra Pfizer’s little blue pill has entered popular culture as the

object of a million jokes. But the serious condition it is used to treat

- erectile dysfunction - is no laughing matter to its sufferers. Paling

Walters Targis is the ad agency, Ruder Finn and Bullet Communications

handles its PR.



Xenical Obesity treatment from Roche Products. McCann Healthcare handles

Xenical’s advertising, Hill and Knowlton the PR.



Prozac Eli Lilly’s product for depression is almost as high profile as

Viagra. Cohn & Wolfe handles its PR.



Propecia Baldness treatment from Merck.



Seroxat Marketers at SmithKline Beecham cringe whenever this product is

referred to as a treatment for ’shyness’, pointing out that this

description belittles serious conditions such as social anxiety disorder

and panic attacks. Shire Hall handles the PR.



This article was first published on campaignlive.co.uk

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