In 1997, the FDA opened the flood gates on direct-to-consumer advertising, thus allowing drugmakers to promote their products on television. DTC has raised awareness of disease and prompted consumers to talk to their doctor about often sensitive topics, but it has also aroused some controversy.

In a recent editorial, Ian Spatz, a former vice president for global health policy at Merck, says doctors feel pressured to prescribe the drugs patients request. And critics say the ads push consumer to ask their doctors for expensive branded drugs, driving up the cost of healthcare.

He suggests drugmakers collaborate on disease-focused campaigns that raise awareness of certain conditions and urge patients to talk to their doctors for treatment options. Doing so would cut companies' advertising budgets, end the ridiculous laundry list of frightening side effects mandated by the FDA, and deliver important information to patients.

While TV proved the dominant medium for DTC in the early 2000s, things might be changing, as Gregory Aston pointed out recently in a blog post for Marketing: Health. In 2010, TV investment fell 17 percent, more than twice the rate of the total category. GSK and six other major pharmaceutical companies significantly reduced their TV investment. Meanwhile, there was a growth seen print (plus 13 percent in 2010, Aston points out). He doesn't see this as a surprise, as it is a tried and tested method to getting the industry's point across.

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DTC advertising

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Latest Headlines

Point-of-care marketing shoots past DTC as pharma's latest marketing trend

Point-of-care marketing is shooting past direct-to-consumer advertising as pharma marketing's latest trend. 

Why spend money on awareness? A new study shows the campaigns actually work

Here's some statistical confirmation that awareness campaigns work--and that they can work well. During a three-month push for lung cancer testing in the U.K., primary care doctors referred more than 3,000 extra patients to get tested. About 700 were diagnosed with lung cancer.

Shaq does a James Brown dance to promote Sanofi pain-relief gadget

Longtime spokesman for Sanofi's IcyHot and former NBA superstar Shaquille O'Neal is back to promote the latest addition to the brand's family, IcyHot SmartRelief.

The FDA's latest DTC study: Heavy ad rotation on TV

The FDA is considering a study to determine whether consumers get a different idea about a particular drug when they view an ad multiple times compared with those who see it only once.

Is your DTC campaign working? New program tracks viewers from TV to pharmacy

Imagine you're a pharma marketer shrouded by an invisibility cloak. You can see when someone views your latest ad campaign on television, and then follow them to the doctor's office or even the pharmacy when they pick up their meds. A new initiative from Nielsen Catalina Solutions and marketing analytics firm Crossix Solutions aims to do just that, helping pharma marketers craft more targeted campaigns by anonymously measuring TV viewership in real-time and tracking prescription purchases.  

Pfizer's new #viagracommercial lights up Twitter during MLB playoffs--and not in a good way

Pfizer is no stranger to controversy when it comes to Viagra advertising. So a fresh round of criticism aimed at its latest campaign may not be a surprise--but in the age of social media, the critics aren't just telling their friends or writing angry letters. They're complaining to the online universe.

Pfizer DTC message: Hey guys, women say it's cool to take Viagra

Following more than a decade of Viagra campaigns starring men, the pharma giant made the switch to help put men with ED "at ease," Pfizer spokesman Steve Danehy told  FiercePharmaMarketing  in an email.

Sucampo's Amitiza targets 45-plus women with belly-as-balloon DTC ads

Sucampo and Takeda may not be the first to launch a DTC campaign for a chronic idiopathic constipation (CIC) treatment. But the team, which markets Amitiza, is doing things a little differently.

Celebrity pitch-folks may not be worth the money, study finds

Celebrities are making more and more appearances in pharma's DTC advertising. But do they help meds score with patients the same way they help sell consumer goods?

Listen to celebrity drug ads? Patients do hear, but they don't obey

Celebrities are making more and more appearances in pharma's DTC advertising. The way drugmakers see it, celeb endorsements help their meds score with patients the same way they help sell consumer goods. Or do they?