I don’t mean to sound paranoid but it seems to me that media reporting on DTC is heavily biased negatively. Maybe it reflects the media’s general anti-big business attitude. I recently came across a Los Angeles Times article on DTC, focused on risk communication. It is titled “Direct-to-consumer marketing is a scandal, can the FDA fix it?” The article from 9/18/15 is about how drug ads confuse consumers with medical language and overstate benefits through its pretty visual scenes.
The FDA has actively regulated DTC since its inception and continues to oversee what the ads say. They ensure fair balance and as any drug marketer knows, FDA reviewers are not rubber stamps for drug makers. This article is not very different from most critiques of DTC. The writer calls for more easily understood consumer language. Most drug companies are already doing that in broadcast and print. No drug maker is trying to obscure risks through some hidden plot to use medical terms.
My concern on how the media writes about DTC is when they use terms like scandal in the headline. This article never said what the scandal really is about. The writer presented no quantitative evidence of consumers being deceived by drug ads except citing studies that consumers do not fully understand side effects in ads. Scandal is a strong word that should be used judiciously. While it is certainly true drug ads are meant to sell products, these ads are rigorously reviewed by FDA for accuracy. Ads are not meant to be the only information on a drug the consumer sees. The consumer has easy access to many views on a drug’s efficacy and risk profile.
Consumers may not fully understand every warning or risk in an ad. They can look up more on the Internet and ask their doctor. This reporter makes DTC ads out to be some nefarious strategy to obscure risk. Yet what other advertising category is regulated such that half their ad contains warning and risk information. I admit there are legitimate concerns that DTC ads can be confusing. Drug makers and FDA want consumers to understand the ads. Most print ads now use a consumer friendly fact box style of risk information. Television ads are regulated to ensure risk communication is read at the same pace as benefits. FDA has done and is doing numerous studies to ensure ads are understood and in balance.
While scandal as a headline gets attention, the media needs to back it up with proof. Certainly the Los Angeles Times is happy to accept drug ads as a revenue source. Maybe they should refuse such “scandalous” ads in an effort to protect their readers. Somehow I doubt they would because DTC ads help their bottom line.
Bob Ehrlich, Chairman
DTC Perspectives, Inc.
If the FDA reviewed ads prior to airing, your comments would be more persuasive. However, under current law they can only “ensure fair balance” if they receive complaints. Having reviewed prescribing information and side effects on a number of DTC adds, I found them to be highly misleading at best. The fact that the drugs being advertised cost 10 to 100 times that of alternatives is never mentioned. Despite the fact that consumers can look these drugs up on the internet, most do not.
Silence on the part of media based on their share of the “gravy train” is a scandal – you have provided the necessary proof in your article. Webster’s defines scandal as “loss of or damage to reputation caused by actual or apparent violation of morality or propriety”.
The “apparent” means that scandals can be based on fact, fiction, or a mix. And there is plenty of appearance here.