NEW YORK: Pharmaceutical companies are again under fire from US health lobbyists who claim direct-to-consumer drug advertising on TV relies too heavily on emotion and too little on useful information about a specific disease and its treatment.

A study published in the Annals of Family Medicine looked at primetime commercials aired on the four main TV networks during a period in summer 2004.

The 'flaws' in the ads identified by the study's lead author, Dominick Frosch from the University of California, included:

  • Only 26% of the ads mentioned risk factors or causes of the condition treated by the drug.

  • None of the commercials mentioned lifestyle changes as an alternative to medication.

  • Only one-quarter of the commercials mentioned how common or otherwise the untreated disease was.

  • Most of the commercials were unrealistic in portraying medication's role in achieving health. The ads showed people who regained complete control of their lives after taking the advertised drug.
Marketers, however, vigorously dispute the study's findings, saying they are based on out-of-date advertising aired before the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America issued voluntary DTC advertising guidelines last year.

Counters PhRMA spokesman Ken Johnson: "The study does not reflect any of the positive changes in DTC advertisements over the past twelve months and therefore has little relevance to the current policy discussion on direct-to-consumer advertising."

The US Congress is currently looking at possible legislation to regulate DTC ads.

Dan Jaffe, vp, government relations for the Association of National Advertisers is concerned that the study will add fuel to the regulatory fire, warning: "I really think those in Congress in positions of power are going to go forward with proposals to restrict prescription drug advertising."

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