Thursday, December 29, 2005

The BEST of Pharma Marketing Blog in 2005

I can't resist the urge to do a TOP TEN list! Of the more than 120 posts made to this blog in 2005, the following are my picks for the TOP TEN, based on my own criteria and feedback from readers. Most of the these address in one way or another the TOP concern I have about the pharmaceutical industry and pharmaceutical marketing: a lack of transparency... a lack of transparency about drug risks, a lack of transparency in DTC advertising, and a lack of transparency about issues like drug reimportation. You'll have to read some of these TOP TEN posts to see what I mean. Or read this article: "Blogs and the Pharmaceutical Industry."

An now [drum roll, please] the TOP TEN, counting down from 10...

Proposal for a Drug Risk Advisory System -- Taking a page from the Homeland Security Advisory system, in May I proposed a similar color-coded system for notifying the public about drug risks. I thought it was a good idea as did quite a few respondents to my survey on the topic (see "Notifying Consumers of Drug Risks"). I even suggested it the FDA, but they haven't gotten back to me yet. In fact, the agency may dump the whole idea for a "Drug Watch" Web site (see "FDA Drug Watch: Too Hot to Handle"). The drug industry really opposed this initiative, so it's not surprising that the FDA has quietly put the idea to bed -- it could never work without the cooperation of the industry.

Is Pharmaceutical Marketing BS? -- After watching a 60 Minutes show that featured a story on a book titled "On Bullshit," I just had to go out and get the last copy in my local bookstore, especially since the commentary also noted that marketing is one of the most notorious sources of bullshit. Of course, pharmaceutical marketing is often "top-of-the-line" as far as bullshit goes. Learn about my pharma marketing "bullshit meter" from this post. Also, try this article (reprint available): "Is Pharma Marketing a Lot of BS?" (fun reading for the New year!).

Merck's Hand in the Cookie Jar -- There's so much [bad] news about Merck and Vioxx that I just cannot not help but write about the company's trials and tribulations. At least 13 posts were devoted to Merck. I picked this one because it was the last straw and so obvious that Merck was "cooking the books" so to speak. I anticipate more disturbing revelations in 2006.

The Two Bobs: Enzyte vs. Viagra -- One editor calls for Enzyte (the "natural male enhancement pill") ads to be pulled, the other wonders why Viagra ("the blue pill") asd aren't vilified as well. Which Bob do you like? Or which Bob is more like you (or a male acquaintance of yours)? The parallels between these products, how they are marketed, and how they have been or not been regulated is very interesting. In August, I suggested that the promotion of Viagra would be a test of Pfizer's new DTC pledge (see "Pfizer DTC Pledge: ED is Litmus Test"). These days, Viagra has virtually disappeared from TV -- at least prime-time TV -- whereas Enzyte ads dominate the afternoon ESPN ad space.

It's the land of success! -- Oops! This is another Merck/Vioxx related post, but written in the style of the old rhyming Crestor ad. It's about "fixing" data in a Vioxx trial to make the results more favorable. See also Merck's Hand in the Cookie Jar where you will find the smoking gun.

Peter Rost: Pharma's Black Knight -- When Pfizer cut off whistle blower Peter Rost's cell phone and email service after he was interviewed on 60 minutes, I couldn't help compare Rost with the Black Knight in the movie "Monty Python and the Holy Grail."

WSJ Cites PM Blog as "Must Read" -- When the Wall Street Journal cited Pharma Marketing Blog as a blog insiders should read to stay current, you could have bowled me over. That day, the number of visitors increased tenfold! Just shows the power of the press.

Pharma Marketing Mensa Invitational -- Take any pharmaceutical marketing term, alter it by adding, subtracting, or changing one letter, and supply a new definition. The results are pretty hilarious!

Sexy Reps Sell Rx -- This post about the propensity of pharma companies to hire cheerleaders as sales reps resulted in a lively discussion among members of the PHARMA-MKTING listserv concerning the role of women in the industry. Smack in the middle of that discussion, we learned that Jerry Hall, super model, was named the (get this) "Global Ambassador for [Bayer HealthCare's] Erectile Dysfunction Campaign." Could it get any better for a blogger? You just can't make this stuff up!

John Mack Rebuffs Merck's CEO Offer -- When Merck was looking for a new CEO, I couldn't believe that the leading prospect would reject the overture because he was scheduled to climb a mountain! Who could have scripted such a comment? This post was based on a more or less serious article in the Wall Street Journal, which I am sure had a bit of tongue in cheek. I couldn't resist taking the analogy to the extreme and come up with this comic spoof that won a few accolades from friends and colleagues. I should have waited a couple of days, however, for April Fool's day. Timing is everything in the blogosphere!


  1. Hi John and Happy New Year,

    Congrats on your Top 10.

    Your nos. 2 and 8 have struck a chord with me. Indeed, Mercks' Dr Alsie Reicin was PharmaGossips' Person of the Year!

    Perhaps Merck should drop one little letter from their tag line and it would become:
    "Putting patents first"?!

    Regarding "Cheerleader Reps". Well, suffice to say that on the days I posted a visual on this topic on PharmaGossip my hit rate doubled!

    Sex does indeed sell.

    Once again, have a great 2006!

    Jack Friday (aka Insider)

  2. DTC (direct-to-consumer) Advertising is one of the most controversial practices the drug industry uses to market its various products.

    Total spending on pharmaceutical promotion grew from $11.4 billion in 1996 to $29.9 billion in 2005. Although during that time spending on direct-to-consumer advertising increased by 330%, it made up only 14% of total promotional expenditures in 2005. Direct-to-consumer campaigns generally begin within a year after the approval of a product by the FDA.

    Supporters of this form of advertising, which is banned in nearly almost all countries (excluding the United States and New Zealand) say it provides a real service to consumers, informing them of new drugs and alerting them to health problems they may be unaware of.

    Critics feel this form of advertising promotes only the most expensive new blockbuster drugs, when older and cheaper versions of drugs might be just as effective, thus driving up overall health care costs, with much emphasis placed on the high costs of prescription drugs.

    Aggressive promotion can pay off big time. Merck, maker of Vioxx, the most promoted drug, spent $161 million advertising it in 2000, and sales of Vioxx quadrupled to $1.5 billion.

    In fact, Merck spent more advertising Vioxx, according to NIHCM (National Institute for Health Care Management Foundation), than the $125 million spent promoting Pepsi or the $146 million spent on Budweiser beer ads. It even came close to the $169 million spent promoting GM's Saturn, the nation's most advertised car.

    The drug industry says its ads not only educate consumers but also prompt people who might otherwise go undiagnosed to see their doctors. Many doctors agree.

    What’s your opinion as to whether or not prescription drug advertising costs are a direct reflection to the high costs of prescription drugs in the United States.


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