DTC Drug Ads 'More Emotional Than Informational'

05 February 2007

PRINCETON: New Jersey: Advertising by America's $4.5 billion (€3.47bn; £2,29bn) direct-to-consumer drug advertising industry is more "emotional than informational", charges former commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration Dr David Kessler.

He adds that such ads "may succeed in convincing citizens that they're even more unwell than is the case".

His claim, published last week, is made in a new study commissioned by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation - the nation's largest charity devoted to improving the health and health care of all US citizens.

Says the study's lead author Dominick L Frosch, assistant professor of general internal medicine and health services research at the University of California in Los Angeles: "We're seeing a dramatization of health problems that many people used to manage without prescription drugs.

"The DTC ads send the message that you need drugs to manage these problems and that, without medication, your life will be less enjoyable, more painful and maybe even out of control."

Kessler, these days Dean of the University's School of Medicine in San Francisco, concurs. Together with UCSF legal colleague Professor Douglas A Levy, he complains that DTC drug ads fail to "effectively or consistently convey important information about product risks and benefits".

Big Pharma's rapid response unit hit back swiftly. John Kamp, executive director of New York-based lobbyist, the Coalition for Healthcare Communications, said of the Foundation's study: "Although interesting, [it] is far from a definitive work and certainly not a basis for more stringent FDA regulation of DTC advertising.

"We hope members of Congress read the study and respect its limits more carefully than Kessler and Levy. The primary role of DTC advertising is to encourage consumers to discuss health issues with their doctor. There is substantial evidence that this goal is being achieved."

He was echoed by Association of National Advertisers' evp Dan Jaffe: "DTC ads are not intended to be an encyclopedia with all possible information about a product."

Data sourced from AdAge.com; additional content by WARC staff