As reported in BrandweekNRX (see “Device DTC Spending Drops“), TNS Healthcare reports that device ad spending dropped in 2006 to a level not seen since 2003. Here are the numbers:

2002 = $384 million
2003 = $444 million
2004 = $483 million
2005 = $510 million
2006 = $443 million

Does this drop off represent a trend or is it an anomaly to be reversed this year? It seems that there is more device DTC this year than last: personally, I have seen more device ads on TV and in print lately and commented on this in previous posts (see, for example, “Device DTC: Imagine How Far It Will Go!“).

Let’s look more closely at the numbers.

First, as BrandweekNRX points out, $45 million (or 67%) of the overall $67 million fall off was due to one company: Johnson & Johnson, which spent $105 million in device DTC in 2006 compared to $150 million in 2005.

Although BrandweekNRX attributes J&J’s cutback to its pledge to decrease TV DTC spending, it’s decision could have more to do with the recent revelations concerning drug-eluting stents. These stents, according to reports, have been linked to an increased risk of blood clots which could continue for several years after they are implanted. Other studies just showed that the stents were ineffective:

“Stent makers including Johnson & Johnson and Boston Scientific Corp. took a blow last week when a study revealed that the devices, intended to prop open narrowed coronary arteries after angioplasty procedures clear out blockages, did not decrease mortality or hospitalizations for patients taking medications to blunt the effects of severe but stable heart disease.” (NJBIZ)

Compare this with the situation in 2005 when J&J started a stent price war with its competitor Boston Scientific. DTC advertising no doubt played a role in that strategy.

So 67% of the ad spend drop might be anomalous in nature.

In other words, leaving J&J out of the equation, the decrease in device DTC spending is not as dramatic as it looks and may actually continue to increase in the coming years.

Then again, device manufacturers may be finding that DTC just hasn’t been working (see “New Medical-Device Ads; Old Concerns“).