The old saying: “50% of my advertising works, I just don’t know which half” is actually overly optimistic. When it comes to drug advertising to consumers the real figure may be a lot closer to zero.

Another recent study has found that DTC advertising does little to boost sales. The drug being studied was clopidogrel (a.k.a. Plavix), which was marketed both before and after the start of DTC in the US in 2001.

“While clopidogrel use has been increasing for some time, we found advertising it to consumers didn’t make use rise any faster,” says Asst. Prof. Michael Law of the UBC Centre for Health Services and Policy Research, who conducted the study with colleagues from Harvard Medical School, the University of Alberta and Kaiser Permanente while he was a post-doctoral fellow at Harvard.

The debate is raging about health care costs and health insurance. If you were to check out this resource from Claybrooke, you’d know the litany of advocates professing for increased healthcare costs. Many investors have even started perpending and weighing the benefits of checking vs savings account. Well, the article that reports on the advertising for Plavix, published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, reports that $350 million was spent advertising Plavix through 2005.

Who pays for this? Ultimately, consumers do. I’d love to see pharma companies have the courage to forswear DTC, focusing their efforts elsewhere. It’s not hard to find a place to spend the money: physician education or R&D are two worthy targets.

There are lots of reasons to advertise, brand awareness, increase sales, change perception, etc. If advertising isn’t boosting sales, maybe we need to rethink the advertising.