Health Canada reviewing CTV Zyban spots

A series of anti-smoking TV interstitials sponsored by the smoking-cessation drug Zyban has raised a red flag with Canada's Health Protection Branch. The pharmaceutical watchdog is reviewing the series of short filler spots, which were produced and aired by the CTV...

A series of anti-smoking TV interstitials sponsored by the smoking-cessation drug Zyban has raised a red flag with Canada’s Health Protection Branch.

The pharmaceutical watchdog is reviewing the series of short filler spots, which were produced and aired by the CTV television network, to determine whether they contravene federal restrictions on direct-to-consumer pharmaceutical advertising.

Health Canada opened the investigation after receiving complaints regarding the spots, which feature ordinary people talking about their personal struggles to quit smoking, according to Ann Sztuke-Fournier, head of the advertising and promotion unit of Health Canada.

The 30-second ‘health vignettes’ began airing nationally last month and while the actors never make any specific reference to a smoking-cessation aid, a super at the end of the spot tells viewers the message is ‘brought to you’ by Zyban.

Although she refuses to divulge the source of the complaints,

Sztuke-Fournier says the fact remains that ‘you cannot advertise prescription medication directly to consumers in Canada.’

Glaxo Wellcome, the maker of Zyban, is currently crafting a response to Health Canada and says it is standing by the spots.

‘We feel that the sponsorship of these CTV medical vignettes is well within the Canadian regulations as it pertains to direct-to-consumer communications,’ says Carlo Mastrangelo, a Glaxo spokesman.

Health Canada bans direct-to-consumer advertising of prescription drugs for the treatment, prevention or cure of a disease or condition that requires diagnosis and treatment by a physician.

Drug companies can market their products to doctors and other health professionals and can also advertise to consumers in order to encourage consumers to consult a physician about a particular ailment. The commercials, however, cannot urge people to ask their doctors about a specific drug.

According to Rita Fabian, CTV’s senior vice-president of sales and marketing, the Zyban spots constitute ‘editorial’ programming, and not advertising. She adds that they were reviewed very carefully to ensure they were in compliance with Health Canada regulations.

‘We were very careful to make sure we were not breaking any rules and regulations,’ she says. ‘As far as we know, we haven’t.’

Zyban is the leading smoking-cessation prescription drug on the market. The number of Zyban prescriptions filled almost quadrupled from 201,000 in 1998 to 747,000 last year, according to Pointe-Claire, Que.-based research firm IMS Health Canada. The drug was the 66th most-prescribed drug in 1999.

However, in the increasingly competitive stop-smoking category, Zyban has come under pressure from over-the-counter competitors that can more freely advertise their products. In April of last year, Ontario joined the rest of the country in switching nicotine replacement therapies, including patches and gum, from prescription to over-the-counter.

Since the change, competitors such as Nicorette gum and Nicoderm patches, produced by Montreal-based Hoechst Marion Roussel, as well as Nicotrol patches marketed by Johnson & Johnson Merck Consumer Pharmaceuticals, have all launched consumer-marketing campaigns.

While direct-to-consumer pharmaceutical advertising is banned in Canada, it is big business in the U.S. and advertising is flowing freely across the border on U.S. airwaves, magazines and newspapers.

American drug companies spend between US$1.5 billion to US$1.8 billion annually on direct-to-consumer advertising, with 5-10% of that seeping north of the border, according to data from ACNielsen.

Google launches a campaign about news connections

The search engine is using archival footage to convey what Canadians are interested in.

Google Canada and agency Church + State have produced a new spot informed by research from the search giant that suggests it is a primary connector for Canadians to the news that matters to them – a direct shot across the bow of the legislators presently considering Bill C-18.

In a spot titled “Connecting you to all that’s news,” the search giant harnesses archival footage reflective of many of the issues Canadians care about deeply, including the COVID-19 pandemic, climate change, truth and reconciliation and the war in Ukraine, to demonstrate the point that many Canadians turn to Google as a gateway to the information and news they’re seeking.

“From St. John’s to Victoria and everywhere in between, when Canadians want to understand or get updated on the most pressing topics, Google connects them to the news sources that provide it,” says Laura Pearce, head of marketing for Google Canada. “All of us at Google are proud to be that consistent and reliable connection for Canadians to the news they’re searching for.”

In some ways, the goal of the campaign was to tap into the varied emotional responses that single news stories can have with different audiences across the country.

“News may be factual, but how people respond to it can be very emotional,” explains Ron Tite, founder and CCO at Church + State. “Importantly, those emotions aren’t universal. One news story can create completely different reactions from different people in different places. Because of that, we simply wanted to let connecting to news be the focus of this campaign. We worked diligently to license a wide variety of actual news footage that we felt would resonate with Canadians.”

The campaign can be seen as a statement by the search provider on Bill C-18 – the Online News Act – that is currently being deliberated by a parliamentary committee. That legislation seeks to force online platforms such as Meta’s Facebook and Alphabet’s Google to pay news publishers for their content, echoing a similar law passed in Australia in 2021. The Act has drawn sharp rebukes from both companies, with Facebook threatening to ban news sharing on its platform.

Google Canada is not commenting on whether this new campaign is a response to C-18, but it has been public in its criticism of the legislation. In testimony delivered to parliament and shared on its blog, Colin McKay, the company’s head of public policy and government relations, said, “This is a history-making opportunity for Canada to craft world-class legislation that is clear and principled on who it benefits.” However, he noted that C-18 is “not that legislation.”

The campaign launched on Oct. 24 and is running through December across cinema, OLV, OOH, podcast, digital and social. Airfoil handled the broadcast production.