media and message effects on DTC prescription drug print advertising awareness

Martin S. Roth
University of South Carolina

To date, two things are well known about direct-to-consumer (DTC) advertising of prescription drugs – annual expenditures keep going up and the debate over the merits and effectiveness of DTC drug advertising continues. Advertising expenditures for prescription drugs in consumer media surpassed $2.5 billion in 2001 compared to $200 million in 1994. In 2000 DTC was the fourth largest advertising category in the U.S. market, behind only cars and trucks, restaurants, and movies (reported in Blankenhorn, Duckwitz, and Sherr, 2001). Research on the effects of DTC drug advertising has generally shown positive results on consumer attitudes and awareness. Studies conducted by academics indicate that consumers have positive attitudes toward DTC advertisements and feel that DTC advertisements can be a useful source of information (for example, Everett, 1991; Perri and Dickson, 1987, 1988; Williams and Hensel, 1995). Industry surveys report positive findings such as many consumers' recall having seen a DTC advertisement (between 33–90 percent), up to two-thirds of those who have seen an advertisement discussed the drug with their doctor, and of those over a quarter take the next step and ask for a prescription (reported in DTC Perspectives, 2002; Slaughter, 2001; Sweeney, 1999; West, 1999). Research conducted by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which monitors and reviews DTC drug advertising, concludes that DTC advertising can serve positive public health functions such as increasing patient awareness of diseases that can be treated and prompting thoughtful discussions with physicians that result in needed treatments being prescribed (Food and Drug Administration, 2003). DTC drug advertising is not just a U.S. phenomenon; it is also prevalent in Australia, and the European Community is reconsidering its traditional prohibition of such activities (Hone, 2001).