Marketing execs find fault with FDA's 'Bad Ad' program

Will some DTC foes use the FDA's new "Bad Ad" program to crusade against the very idea of consumer advertising for drugs? That's what some industry-watchers predict in an Advertising Age analysis of the agency initiative.

The FDA recently unveiled the "Bad Ad" push, asking doctors to help catch advertising infractions. The program specifically targets sales-rep pitches to physicians and other healthcare providers, but medical professionals can also report false and misleading ads. And the FDA plans to let doctors know exactly what constitutes "bad" advertising, as well as educate them about the agency's Division of Drug Marketing, Advertising and Communications.

Sounds pretty straightforward. But advertising execs don't like the idea, and some accuse FDA of deputizing doctors rather than staffing up enough internally to review the deluge of promotions submitted to DDMAC for review. And some worry that the anonymous nature of the Bad Ad complaints will allow any old Jane Doe to register a complaint.

"FDA is understaffed, underfunded and under siege," one ad-industry and pharma veteran tells AdAge. "I recognize the need to do this from an economics point of view, but it opens up Pandora's Box." Another suggests that some doctors with "little to no use for DTC" will "use this watchdog program to their advantage."

The FDA denies the charge that it's expecting doctors to do its work, saying that the program is designed only to boost surveillance, not pawn off ad reviews. Yes, it's true that the complaints are anonymous--and anyone, not just a doctor can submit one--but if the agency does get a deluge of complaints, it will focus on the most serious ones first, officials say.

- read the AdAge piece