US health watchdog, the Food and Drug Administration, has begun gathering views on direct-to-consumer pharmaceutical advertising.

It is hoped the Washington DC hearings, part of the FDA's rules review, will help formulate a strategy to better regulate the country's $4 billion ((€3.2bn. £2.24bn) annual DTC adspend.

The drugs companies aim to convince the FDA that they themselves can reform and police the industry's DTC advertising, thus heading off federal legislation.

Consumer groups, health activists and sectors of the medical profession, on the other hand, want government-led reform. They believe DTC advertising is out of control, failing to adequately inform patients of the risks and side-effects of expensive branded products.

The hearing was told by Pfizer president of US pharmaceuticals, J Patrick Kelly, that drugs companies "can do more"; he also said "we believe under the First Amendment patients have a right to receive information and our companies have a right to impart it".

Market researcher Dr Abby Mehta told the FDA panel that in a study done with fictitious medications, endorsed in fake print ads by real celebrities, awareness among consumers of the faux ads was 34% higher than that of ads featuring non-celebrities.

She added: "On average celebrity ads can and do show higher breakthrough (of clutter), gain attention and the spokesperson is rated more favorably than non-celebrities."

But the celebrities, she said, were not seen to be providing any more important a message than non-celebrities.

Data sourced from AdAge (USA); additional content by WARC staff