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This article was originally published in The Tan Sheet

Executive Summary

OTC DRUG ADVERTISING DIRECTED AT "EMPOWERING" CONSUMERS through education and product information is suggested in a study of consumer attitudes conducted by the OTx Group, a division of New York ad agency VICOM/FCB. Based on the results of the "qualitative" study of consumer attitudes, the OTx Group recommends the use of "empowerment language" in OTC advertising with terms like "hospital/doctor tested"; "proven safe for millions"; and "you know your body better than anyone." The study results were based on interviews of 40 people from the New York and Connecticut region. Approximately two-thirds interviewed were consumers split evenly by gender and about one- third were physicians. The approximate length of each interview was about one hour and the sessions involved open-ended dialogue and "imagination excursions." The study, entitled "Psychological Dynamics in the New Healthcare Paradigm," was designed to examine evolving social attitudes toward medicine and the psychological dynamic that affects consumers' feeling of being well versus being sick. The results, according to the OTx Group, indicate that consumers are seeking "self-empowerment" in their choice of pharmaceutical products and in their relationships with physicians. OTx said the study also demonstrates that "consumer interest in managing illness corresponds to the increase in direct-to- consumer [prescription] advertising, the growing number of Rx products switching to over-the-counter status, and the medical tone of OTC advertising." To take advantage of this consumer trend, the OTx Group suggests that OTC drug advertisers use what the ad agency refers to as consumer "empowerment tools," including providing consumers with information on self-diagnosis. Ads that assume an "adult-to- adult" tone, the ad agency suggests, appeal to early adopters. The agency recommends that products be positioned as "proven, safe [and] fast with proof." OTx Group Managing Director Doug Bruce noted that product advertising could include a toll-free number so consumers can receive tailored responses to their inquiries, as opposed to the general information that is included in product packaging and labeling. The marketing implications are "very positive" for Rx-to-OTC switches, OTx believes. With switch products, OTx explained, the "consumer gets the best of both worlds: the authoritative imprimatur" associated with prescription products, including physician prescribing, and the "control and accessibility" of OTCs. Suggested "empowerment" terms for Rx-to-OTC switches include: "Consult with your doctor" in lieu of "ask your doctor"; "you and your doctor should decide"; "millions of successful prescription users"; and "fast relief/restoration." Empowerment tools could include coupons and samples, consumer advertising and education on the condition to be treated by the switch product and "encouragement to seek a doctor's input," the OTx Group advised. As an example of current OTC advertising that responds to the changing consumer attitudes seen in the study, Bruce cited Saatchi & Saatchi/McNeil's Tylenol ad campaign featuring Susan Sullivan discussing the product's favorable drug-drug interaction profile ("The Tan Sheet" June 21, In Brief). Bruce also pointed to Sterling Health's Bayer Select approach, which allows consumers to choose appropriate product formulations based on their specific symptoms.

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