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.


DTC advertising

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The top 10 advertisers in Big Pharma

While the list of the top spending DTC ad spenders changes every year, there are always a few certainties and a few surprises.

Analysts 'skeptical' Sanofi can turn around Afrezza launch, but DTC ads are coming

Afrezza wasn't expected to be the spinach that would give Sanofi's diabetes business instant, superhuman strength. But the inhaled insulin, launched in February under a marketing deal with MannKind, was supposed to help fuel sales growth.

Gilead puts new DTC ads behind its already-stellar Harvoni launch

It's fitting that Gilead's star hep C drug Harvoni is grabbing the spotlight in its first direct-to-consumer TV ads. The television, print and digital ad campaign--tagged "I am Ready"--began April 20 and will run through the end of the year, said David Johnson, Gilead VP, U.S. sales and marketing for liver diseases, in an email interview.

GSK buoyed by early numbers on Anoro, Breo DTC campaigns

GlaxoSmithKline needed to jump-start sluggish sales of its respiratory newcomers Breo and Anoro after early uptake fell short of expectations. Now a targeted DTC push may be charging up sales.

Pfizer's Lyrica team matches the spokesman to the message

Many pharma companies create DTC efforts around a branded product, but plenty of drugmakers go the disease education route, too. So when is the right time to use each? That all depends on the population a pharma is trying to reach, and as Pfizer found recently, sometimes they can be used simultaneously to get targeted messages across to different patient groups.

Mr. Mucus med Mucinex recalled on labeling snafu

Reckitt Benckiser recalled about 1.5 million bottles of the cold medicine Mucinex--the brand repped by the love-or-hate character Mr. Mucus--because of labeling errors.

How to make sure DTC doesn't turn off patients? Ask them to tailor your ads

Big Pharma's ads for branded meds generally try to impart inspirational messages and are meant to educate patients about a particular brand, helping them feel more connected to a company or product. But consumers aren't feeling the love, according to a new study from patient advocacy network Wego Health Solutions.

Merck aims for double payoff with new diabetes education push

With Januvia contributing billions in critical revenue, Merck has backed its fair share of diabetes education and awareness efforts. But with its latest, the company may give vaccine sales a boost, too.

DTC ad viewers really do ask their doctors about new meds, survey finds

Almost one-quarter (21%) of respondents in a recent survey said they talk to a doctor about a drug or treatment after watching a TV ad. The survey, taken by pharma analytics firm on its website, found that an additional 5.8% suggest the treatment to someone else after viewing an ad.

Next DTC push for Linzess: Spotlight patients, with big salesforce backup

With Actavis and Ironwood's first DTC campaign for GI med Linzess, the goal was to help patients identify irritable bowel syndrome with constipation (IBS-C) and chronic idiopathic constipation (CIC) by clearly communicating the symptoms. Now that the team is back with its sophomore DTC effort, the goal is to encourage patients to find a solution to their problems. A branded, prescription solution.