The day the music died? FDA fields request to ban background music in DTC ads

Stop the music. That’s what one organization is asking the FDA to do with DTC ads. Knowledge Ecology International (KEI) filed a petition asking the FDA to ban music during the risk readouts in drug advertising on TV, radio and the internet.

The non-profit NGO, known for taking on pharma pricing issuesit recently asked Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, not to extend HIV vaccine patents in low income countriesoutlined its argument in a 22-page citizen’s petition. The proposal asks the FDA “to ban the use of music during the sections of advertisements that discuss the potential side effects and other risks.”

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While the petition is lengthy, its argument is simple. Music played in the background during the reading of risks distracts consumers and makes it more difficult to understand and remember those risks.

KEI director James Love came up with the idea while accompanying his wife to cancer infusion treatments. He noticed the “blaring ads for drugs” shown on TV screens in the rooms, and while he called the visuals distracting as well, he decided to keep the petition narrow and focus on music to maximize its chance of success.

“One thing they can easily regulate is just eliminating the music when they discuss the side effects. It’s a narrow issue, but pretty easy to implement,” Love said. “It would seem to be easier to implement than to have the FDA try and determine how distracting and how counterproductive the music is currently in the ads.”

The FDA does police music in ads and has sent letters to drugmakers in the past around issues regarding music. In 2016, the FDA's Office of Prescription Drug Promotion reprimanded both Sanofi and Celgene with untitled letters for TV ads promoting Toujeo and Otezla, respectively, over distracting or too-loud music.

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After filing, KEI will wait to hear from the FDA, but it will continue to pursue the issue. Love believes the group has a chance of getting getting the FDA’s attention, and possibly that of other groups or even Congress, since the risk statements are already regulated. Getting rid of the music would just be another regulation in that same vein, he figures.

“To the extent that we present something that is a reasonable and moderate request to deal with something that people understand is a problem already, I don’t think this is a farfetched request,” Love said.

The FDA lays out specific guidelines for filing citizen’s petitions on its website and says it receives about 200 petitions every year.