Double whammy for Big Pharma in Advertising Age today. First, a story headlined “Vytorin Ad Shame Taints Entire Marketing Industry” — an excerpt:

Reports that [as] Merck & Co. and Schering-Plough Corp. kept under wraps for more than a year findings that Vytorin does not deliver results it spent more than $100 million advertising to consumers is much more than a PR disaster for the drug’s co-marketers.

Coming on the heels of a New York Times story that Pfizer’s $2 billion drug Lyrica treats a condition, fibromyalgia, that a lot of doctors don’t think exists, the Vytorin news is fanning the flames of public mistrust for the $5 billion direct-to-consumer drug industry — and the ad business in general.

“The pharmas are in big trouble in terms of credibility,” said brand expert Rob Frankel, who runs his own consultancy at RobFrankel.com. “They’re just above Congress and used-car salesmen.”

Accompanying this story is an editorial headlined, “Drug Companies One Step Away From More Regulation.” In it, Ad Age warns:

If drug companies aren’t more careful, they’re going to come down with a case of regulatory pneumonia and the bad-publicity flu.

We’re firm believers that a company selling legal and safe products should be allowed to advertise them. But as is often the case, an ounce of prevention goes a long way. In particular, drug marketers would be wise to tread carefully when rushing the next blockbuster not only to market but onto the airwaves.

We understand that research isn’t cheap. And a blockbuster such a Viagra or a Lipitor goes a long way in paying for life-saving drugs. But what’s much more expensive than research and marketing is fighting lawsuits on numerous fronts or being silenced across the board by the government…

We know that research doesn’t pay for itself and that drug marketers need to make money, but those thinking of making the hard sell for new drugs should consider the physician’s motto: “First, do no harm.”

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