Jack Friday (aka "Insider") over at PharmaGossip blog asks if the Zyrtec print reminder ad shown on the left is legal (see "DTC -- Is It Legal?"). This consumer print ad was found in the April 21, 2008 issue of TIME Magazine.
Sure it's legal! Why not?
Jack is probably thinking that it violates Principle #10 of PhRMA's Guiding Principles for Direct To Consumer Advertising for Prescription Medicines that calls for the elimination of so-called "Reminder Ads," which are usually 30-second TV commercials that mention a drug's name without stating the health conditions for which the medicine is approved and without listing the major risks associated with the drug.
Here's why this Zyrtec print ad is not illegal: Reminder prescription drug ads are perfectly legal from a regulatory point of view, PhRMA's DTC Guideline #10 only applies to TV ads and NOT to print or Internet ads (or ads posted on telephone poles), PhRMA's DTC guidelines are not legally binding, and Most importantly, Zyrtec is NOT an Rx product -- it is OTC and can be sold without a prescription!
Why would the Zyrtec marketers resort to a reminder print ad for their OTC product when they are not required to list all the major side effects as would be required in an prescription non-reminder drug ad? In my review of Rx and OTC print ads (see "Print DTC: How Does It Measure Up?"), ordinary OTC print ads are notoriously lacking side effect information.
Obviously, the Zyrtec marketers want you to call 1-800-4-ZYRTEC, which I did.
I wonder how many people like me actually called the 1-800 number? I was hoping for a live person to answer so I could claim to have found the missing Claritin! Unfortunately, all I got was a recorded audio ad that directed me to the Web site, which directed me to sites where I could buy Zyrtec online! You can hear the recording by clicking here.
Considering that Americans -- especially gun-totting, religious, small town Americans -- are not that fond of reading, this is a good ploy. Of course, they could have just put the Zyrtec Web site URL in the ad and eliminated a step. That would have been a good strategy if we all had iPhones with built-in Internet access.
P.S. A post on Adrants suggests that this print ad follows on to a guerilla marketing tactic that actually posted flyers on phone poles in Boston! I doubt this is a true story -- more likely a Web 2.0 plant by crafty Zyrtec marketers.