Bristol-Myers Squibb’s Ad Ban Spares Internet

Pharmaceutical giant Bristol-Myers Squibb will forego direct-to- consumer advertising on television, print and radio in the first year after it launches a new drug, but the company’s new code doesn’t rule out Internet spending during that period.

“The code itself is not directly related to the Internet,” Brian Henry, a spokesperson for Bristol-Myers Squibb, told ClickZ News. “It’s not like we’re going to have a 12-month delay on anything we’d do on the Internet.”

Last year, the pharma company spent $5.2 million, or 3 percent of its overall budget, on Internet marketing, according to figures from TNS Media Intelligence. By contrast, it spent $93.5 million on television, $57.5 million on print and $728,000 on radio.

The new “direct-to-consumer communications code” is meant to head off consumer and legislator criticism over pharmaceutical advertising. The call to curb aggressive marketing has gotten louder of late, as the widely advertised Vioxx and Celebrex have been linked with cardiac problems.

While Henry wouldn’t speculate on whether unspent ad budgets might migrate to the Web, he did say the company planned to continue marketing around disease awareness in all media.

“That might be an area where Internet outreach might be appropriate,” he said.

The company operates a cancer information Web site, produced in cooperation with Lance Armstrong, at cycleofhope.com. It also runs a site at securethefuture.com, which tells about its efforts to combat HIV/AIDS in Africa.

Bristol-Myers Squibb isn’t the only pharmaceutical company pondering self-regulation in light of criticism of direct-to-consumer practices. The Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), the industry’s main trade group, is currently completing its own set of guidelines, but it’s unlikely to be so strict as to impose a one-year ban on offline ads. PhRMA spokesperson Ken Johnson said the group believes it’s important that manufacturers retain the right to inform consumers about new drugs’ availability.

Bristol-Myers Squibb’s interactive agencies include SimStar, Ogilvy, MBC Interactive and Icon Interactive. Its products include Pravachol, Erbitux and Taxol. It’s also behind over-the-counter remedy Excedrin.

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