FDA’s silly edicts prove that DTC advertising was a bad idea all along

Categories: Big Pharma, FDA, Prescription Drugs | Tags: | Posted On:

Sometime back, Effect Measure posed a question many of us have pondered about direct-to-consumer (DTC) pharmaceutical commercials: What’s with the side-by-side bath tubs in the Cialis ads?

Here are some of the answers given in comments —

  • “Cialis really gets your pipes flowing or plumbing flowing…”
  • “Bathtubs — because you can’t show naked, mutually aroused adults on the sandy beach on TV, but you can imply they are naked and mutually aroused whilst lounging in soapy tubs on a sandy beach on TV.”
  • “I think it is to convey the impression that Cialis is ripe for a slow, romantic build-up to sex and not as much about rushing to the goal. Take your time, relax, have a wonderful evening just ‘being’ with your partner.”

OK, now I have another question: Why are these ads — or ANY ads for prescription drugs directed at consumers — allowed on television or anywhere else?

This is a topic we’ve covered before. We’ve told you that only two countries in the world — the United States and New Zealand — permit DTC pharmaceutical advertising. We’ve shown you how the billions spent on DTC advertising lead American consumers to purchase more drugs than they need, and pharmaceutical companies to charge more for their products than they should.

DTC advertising was OKed at a time when “deregulation” seemed to be the default answer to every public policy question. It didn’t hurt that Big Pharma was putting big money into pockets all over Washington, D.C., to make this happen, either.

But the FDA’s attempts to ensure that Big Pharma advertising is “educational” (the industry’s official argument for DTC ads) as opposed to simply — well, advertising — have proven increasingly awkward.

We all know that the FDA-mandated warnings about side effects, which must appear in every ad that describes what a drug does, have become a national joke.

Last month, the FDA warned pharmaceutical companies that all of their online ads need to include these warnings, too. This goes for those all-text ads in Google search results that give you fewer characters than a Twitter message to sell your product. Good luck adding side effects to those.

And now, last week, the FDA warned drug companies against including “distracting music and images” in their TV commercials.

According to Reuters:

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Television ads for drugs and medical devices should avoid distracting images and music that can reduce viewers’ comprehension of potential side effects, U.S. regulators advised in guidelines proposed on Tuesday.

Advertisements also should use similar type styles and voice-overs when conveying benefits and risks, the Food and Drug Administration said.

In the new guidelines, the FDA said busy scenes, frequent scene changes and moving camera angles “can misleadingly minimize the risks of the product being promoted by detracting from the audience’s comprehension.”

Hey, FDA, do you know what an ad is? Here’s a hint: It’s not a 30-second documentary. It’s a sales message that uses images, music and whatever else it can to sell a product.

For pharmaceutical companies, its only purpose is to get you to “ask your doctor for it by name” the next time you want to sit in beachfront bathtubs, side by side, with your sexual partner.

Which is why these ads should never have been legalized in the first place.

“Ask your doctor” if he or she agrees with us on this. I bet they do.

About Cary Byrd

eDrugSearch founder, Cary Byrd, has been called an “e-health innovator” by MarketIntellNow, interviewed by top pharmaceutical industry journalists, invited to Matthew Holt’s Health 2.0 Conference and a Consumer Report's health summit, and highlighted on numerous health blogs.

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0 thoughts on “FDA’s silly edicts prove that DTC advertising was a bad idea all along

  • One of the most pernicious effects of direct-to-consumer prescription drug advertising is that it has bought the pharmaceutical industry (and, indirectly, their fellow “Big Health” partners) a tame ally in the commercial media. Looking for objective information on health care reform? You won’t find it in the commercial media. They aren’t going to bite the hand that feeds — $1.4 billion to ABC, CBS, and NBC alone in 2005* — and the hand that feeds doesn’t want reform. Accordingly, the coverage we see in the mainstream media is heavily slanted in favor of the current health care system’s big players.

    * Source: Alexander Cockburn, CounterPunch, 6-8 March 2009, “How The TV Networks Became Drug Peddlers”

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