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.

From Karen Howe’s dining table: Creativity, COVID and Cannes

ICYMI, The Township's founder gathers the best of the best campaigns and trends so far.

Cannes Base Camp

By Karen Howe

I’m attending Cannes from the glory of my dining room table. There’s not a palm tree in sight, yet inspiration and intel are present in abundance.

Cannes Lions is a global cultural pulse check. The social course correction in the wake of the murder of George Floyd and BLM has delivered far greater diversity in the judging panels as well as the work. And we are all better for it.

I’m proud to say that creativity defeated COVID, which speaks to its power. Great work and big ideas flourished, despite unimaginable odds.

The work from the past two years spans a vast emotional range. From the profundity of Dove’s “Courage is Beautiful” to the hyper exuberance of Burberry’s “Festive,” they are opposite ends of the spectrum, but each answered a need in us.

Take note, the ascendency of gaming cannot be understated. Smart brands have embraced the channel. It makes sense, because gamers participate to meet others around the world, not just to play. And they represent a huge and powerful community. That’s why QSR Wendy’s gamified their iconic gal in RPG’s Feast of Legends.

Burger King sponsored the unknown Stevenage Football Club, transforming the team into online heroes and vaulting BK into the fray at the same time. Once again, the brand embedded itself in culture.

The birth of gaming tourism arrived when Xbox snuggled up to travel guides and created a brilliant baby: a travel guide for gaming worlds. It, too, embedded itself in culture.

From the standpoint of social good, Reporter Without Borders showed how it worked with Mindcraft for its “Uncensored Library” to bypass press censorship, with Minecraft providing a loophole to a space where young people could be educated. It provided youth with a powerful tool to fight oppression: truth.

COVID changed us in unexpected ways. We learned how to pay attention again and there was a notable lack of 30-second commercials. Instead, longer format content thrived. Apple’s WFH was seven minutes long. Entertainment reigned king, so we find ourselves returning to our advertising roots.

Seeing competitive brands form partnerships was one of this year’s other great surprises. The brilliantly simple “Beer Cap Project” by Aguila to reduce binge-drinking saw the brand reach out to competitive beers to join in. Aguila put incentivizing (keyword: free) reminders to drink water, eat food and get home safely on its bottle caps from all sorts of fast food chains, ride-share co’s and H2O brands.

On a personal level, I’m so proud of Canada again this year. Given that it was two years of work from all over the world being judged, even making the Cannes shortlist was an accomplishment. Canada is herding in the Lions in tremendous numbers – and it’s not even over. Fingers are crossed.

KAREN-HOWE-PIC-higher-rez-300x263Karen Howe is a Canadian Cannes Advisory Board Member and founder of The Township Group