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

Lilly takes the lead in DTC ad spending, surpassing Pfizer

Eli Lilly ($LLY) has overtaken Pfizer ($PFE) in the pharma advertising steeplechase. Cegedim Strategic Data reports that Lilly's spending on direct-to-consumer advertising surpassed Pfizer's in April. And that's a big change. Pfizer has been DTC's big spender for some time.

Top 10 Drug Advertising Spends-- Q1 2012

While the grand party in direct-to-consumer (DTC) advertising may have peaked about 5 years ago, it remains an important method of marketing drugs. In this  FiercePharma special report on the top 10 advertising spends, we have included links to one television spot for each drug.

Pfizer's DTC ad spending dwarfs rivals

Overall, DTC spending has dropped in four of the last 5 years.

As blockbuster drugs fade, so does TV advertising

The DTC juggernaut is weakening. As The New York Times reports, industry spending on TV ads fell by 2% in 2011, the fourth consecutive year of decline. Altogether, TV spending is down 20% from 2007...

FDA finds puppies and moths not guilty of DTC interference

Puppies and beach houses may not be as distracting as the FDA feared. The agency had been studying presentations of risk information in direct-to-consumer advertising to determine how graphics, video...

Dendreon to amp up DTC support for Provenge

Dendreon ($DNDN) is turning to patients to boost demand for its prostate cancer treatment Provenge. Faced with lower-than-expected sales of the personalized therapy, the company plans to expand

Should pharma refocus on customers, not shareholders?

A management guru prescribes "radical" changes for Big Pharma--including abandoning DTC advertising. In his view, the industry can only leap ahead when its leaders unlearn traditional management

CBO: Little change from longer wait to DTC

Some time back, a cadre of U.S. lawmakers suggested that drugmakers' ability to market brand-new meds should be curtailed. Although some companies already forego direct-to-consumer advertising for a

Roche keeps up DTC on Boniva while others cut

Marketing osteoporosis drugs has grown more complicated since Merck's Fosamax went off patent a couple years ago. Now that there are low-cost alternatives to branded bisphosphonate treatments,

How can pharma fix DTC ads?

In 1997, the FDA opened the flood gates on direct-to-consumer advertising, and thus for the first time allowed drugmakers to promote their products on television. In an editorial in the New York