Who’s Going To Watch a 150-Second Spot?

I’m no advertising expert, but I get the idea that the 30-second spot is no longer effective. Our lives are time compressed. We use technology like the DVR to timeshift our entertainment to fit our schedules and squeeze out the commercials in the process. Why do I skip through ads? Because for the most part, they don’t offer anything of value to me. Case in point: pharmaceutical ads. Ignoring the argument that the drug companies should not be marketing directly to consumers, the conditions that their products treat just don’t pertain to me. Of course, some programs are watched live and those viewers get to sit through the ads.

I recently saw the new TV spot for Pfizer’s arthritis medication Celebrex. Pfizer began running the spot in April after a more than two year hiatus. Their direct-to consumer ads for Celebrex were voluntarily discontinued in December, 2004 after rival Merck & Co. withdrew its similar Vioxx medicine due to elevated risk of heart attack in long-term users.

The new ad is unconventional in two ways. First, the ad focuses heavily on the risks of the product. It is filled with negatives. “Any prescription NSAID, including Celebrex, may increase the chance of heart attack or stroke, which can lead to death,” the narrator warns as the ad begins. It’s not until halfway through that any benefits are discussed and even then, it has a negative spin, like the statement “Celebrex has never been taken off the market”. Pfizer also tries to make the point that Celebrex is no more dangerous than other painkillers including . Some groups are challenging this claim and have asked the FDA to make Pfizer pull the ads

Clearly, Pfizer wants to distinguish themselves from rival Merck who did take Vioxx off the market. With safety concerns swirling and no direct-to-consumer ads to prop up Celebrex, sales of Pfizer’s Celebrex business fell more than 50% in 2005 to $2.4 billion. Pfizer decided to revive the Celebrex ads after internal research showed 40 percent of consumers thought the drug was no longer on the market.

The other unconventional aspect of the ad is that it runs 2 1/2 minutes, almost an entire commercial break. While Pfizer has not disclosed how much they paid for the spot, each commercial may cost more than $200,000 to air, said Angela Federici, a vice president with Santa Monica, California-based Millward Brown, an advertising firm that researches and develops TV ads for drugmakers. It’s a visually creative ad, but painful to listen to as it seems it will never end.

So who’s going to watch this ad. Not me, but then again, I’m not Pfizer’s target here. Their target is likely older and generally not using technology to skip TV spots. So here’s a few questions for you ad people out there:

  1. What do you think about direct-to-consumer drug ads in general?
  2. Given its unconventional nature and likely high cost of the campaign, is this ad effective?

1 comment so far

  1. Marti on

    I despise pharmaceutical ads. I agree that it is wrong for the drug companies to be advertising directly to consumers. I can’t imagine any ad that is filled with negatives being very effective.

    Wishing you a very happy birthday!


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