Medicine Information

Bextra and Vioxx Withdrawal Spawn Advertising Pause from Bristol Myers


Pharmaceutical giant Bristol Myers Squibb has announced that they will suspend direct-to-consumer advertising for their prescription drug products for a year. This comes in the wake of the well-publicized withdrawals of Merck's Vioxx and Pfizer's Bextra, two non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) that were voluntarily withdrawn from the market recently. Studies showed that they increase the likelihood of strokes and heart attacks among patients that take them for prolonged periods of time. This represents an unusual move for a pharmaceutical company, as they tend to spend a large portion of their annual advertising budget on direct-to-consumer advertising.

It is possible that Bristol Myers recognizes that consumers are becoming concerned about new drugs being approved by the FDA and advertised heavily, only to find out later that the drugs have previously unknown and possibly dangerous side effects. Consumers have learned that advertising a drug as "new and improved" doesn't necessarily mean that it is new, or improved, or even safe. In short, customers are suspicious of pharmaceutical advertising, and the drug companies are to be commended for taking notice of that fact.

Since 1997, drug companies have been allowed by U.S. law to advertise directly to consumers. This has led to an astonishing number of ads on television and radio, as consumers see ads showing one happy person after another. The ads suggest that the happiness shown is a result of the use of the product, and a voiceover quickly mumbles through the known, and sometimes lengthy, list of side effects. Patients are encouraged to speak with their doctor, and they have been doing so in record numbers. The problem, as Bristol Myers know realizes, is that consumers are well aware that the withdrawn Bextra and Vioxx were advertised as being safe. This has naturally led to a general suspicion of all advertised drugs, and Bristol Myers correctly sees that they could be the victims of a drug-company backlash, even if they didn't manufacture any of the withdrawn products.

This will probably save Bristol Myers a lot of money in the short term, as their advertising would have largely gone to waste. The Food and Drug Administration is taking steps to make sure that the drugs that reach the U.S. market are safe, and in time, the public will again become more trusting of pharmaceutical advertising. In the meantime, TV viewers will be spared from having to watch the sometimes-cryptic drug ads, which often prompt questions of "What does this drug do?"

©Copyright 2005 by Retro Marketing.

Charles Essmeier is the owner of Retro Marketing, a firm devoted to informational Websites, including Bextra-Info.net, a site devoted to the withdrawn drug Bextra and StructuredSettlementHelp.com, a site devoted to structured settlements.


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