A study by Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology published today (Thursday) in the authoritative New England Journal of Medicine reveals that direct-to-consumer advertising of prescription drugs in the US tripled over the four years from 1996, reaching almost $2.5 billion a year (€2.87bn; £1.75bn) in 2000.

Three of the four years under the microscope reflect the Food and Drug Administration’s relaxation in 1997 of the rules governing television advertising for prescription drugs.

In 1996, ads promoting medicaments to the public accounted for nearly 9% of drug companies’ adspend; in 2000 they represented 15 percent. Across the same period, doctor-targeted promotional activity – including ads in medical journals, free product samples and visits from sales representatives – fell from 91% of the generic marketing budget to 84%.

The most dramatic increase during the period, says the report, was in TV advertising which increased by a multiple of seven, from $220 million to $1.6 billion.

The study is based on an analysis of media advertising and sales volumes of individual drugs, including Claritin, Prilosec, Viagra and Vioxx.

Data sourced from: New York Times; additional content by WARC staff