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

Latest Headlines

Latest Headlines

Some ad types are calling it: 'Pharmageddon' is over. DTC is back.

As the pharma pipeline flows, so does pharma marketing. That's the moral of a new surge in direct-to-consumer ad spending. Last year, the FDA approved 41 brand-new drugs, a record-breaking figure. And as Advertising Age reports, after some long, dry years when DTC spending sunk to new lows, the pharma category is coming back on tap.

Pfizer complains, advertising watchdog acts against Novartis Theraflu promo

Novartis claims its Theraflu Multi-Symptom Severe Cold "starts to get to work in your body in 5 minutes" after taking it. But competitor Pfizer isn't having it--and neither is the National Advertising Division.

Do rival DTC campaigns help your own brand? Yes, a study shows--up to a point

There's the old saying that what's good for the goose is good for the gander. But does one drugmaker's advertising actually benefit its rivals? According to a new report, the answer is yes.

BBDO and JWT win, Havas loses as Bayer divvies up Merck's former OTC brands

Bayer, which picked up Merck's consumer health unit in a $14.2 billion deal this spring, wanted to fold in all the brands from the New Jersey pharma giant's lineup. But to do so, it had to do some creative assignment shuffling. And its agencies had to take some creative steps of their own.

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.