FTC Leans on Drug Administration to Drop Ad Small Print

03 December 2003

As required by the US Federal Drug Administration, direct-to-consumer press ads for pharmaceutical products currently carry acres of small print, spelling out warnings of potential side-effects.

Big Pharma doesn't like this. Nor apparently does the Federal Trade Commission, which on Tuesday urged the FDA to allow drug print ads to run "brief summary" risk alerts of the kind used in broadcast commercials.

The FTC request was contained in a letter to the drug regulator, whom it also urges not to stand in the way of direct-to-consumer drug advertising. The FDA is currently engaged in a review of its rules for direct-to-consumer drug marketing, which annually generates an estimated $2.4 billion (€1.99bn; £1.39bn) in adspend.

The FDA, nearing the end of the review, will publish new guidelines by the end of this month. The FTC's recommendations were offered in response to an FDA consultation exercise involving agencies, corporations and lobbying groups with an interest in d-t-c regulation.

As the current rules stand, drug advertisers must effectively buy twice the amount of space in order to include the mandatory warnings. Publishers are naturally entirely in favor of this.

According to Rita Cohen, svp at the Magazine Publishers of America, her public-spirited members welcome detailed warning of risks associated with a drug couched in language that consumers can understand.

And doubled pharma ad sales?

Not so, ripostes the FTC. Publishers could be losing out. The status quo means that pharma companies must opt either for broadcast buys -- where all their adspend goes on the marketing message -- or print buys, which double the cost in return for a second page of 7-point text.

"The sheer amount of information ... [required to] be disclosed in d-t-c print ads ... may deter consumers from reading the information or make it difficult for consumers to understand it," argues the FTC.

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