WHITEHOUSE STATION, New Jersey: US pharmaceutical giant Merck, maker of the controversial and now withdrawn arthritis painkiller Vioxx, says it is planning to cut direct-to-consumer TV advertising in favour of better-targeted media.

The change in the company's ad strategy is steered by new second-in-command, the grandiosely titled 'President, Global Human Health' Peter Loescher, whose orders are to overhaul Merck's sales and marketing model to make it a more effective global business.

Loescher has taken on board the change in consumers' TV viewing habits and decided that marketing budgets should be spent accordingly.

He says the company is testing "numerous pilot programmes" with new drugs, to this effect. Part of the experiment's move away from traditional broadcast TV is to "target specific populations" in online communities such as women's website iVillage.

These trials will run in tandem with a drive to better identify those who can benefit from certain drugs and those who might experience side effects - the cause of Vioxx's downfall.

Merck is not alone among pharma giants in its move towards more accurately targeted advertising.

Last month TNS Media Intelligence issued figures which showed magazines grabbing 34% of total drugs adspend in the first six months of 2006, up from 29% in the year-earlier period. Conversely,TV accounted for 59% of the ad budgets, down from 64% a year earlier [WARC News: 09-Oct-06].

Data sourced from Financial Times online; additional content by WARC staff