DTC Report Finds Consumer Ads Lacking

January 16, 2008

Pharmaceutical Executive

Volume 0, Issue 0

New study finds that risks and side effects don't get their fair share of time in television advertising. The authors cry out for more educational information in DTC ads--but is it necessary if the ads aren't breaking the law?

A new University of Georgia study by three health-communications professors found most consumer television wanting when it came to stating risks and communicating information about a drug to viewers. On the other hand, nearly all the ads in the study meet FDA criteria, and the authors state that it is difficult to test whether the ads meet fair balance rules because FDA does not give actual requirements.

To perform the study, the researchers had graduate students watch and code 106 television commercials. Some of the interesting findings:

  • 57.8 percent of the ads mentioned how the drug works or its mechanism of action
  • 19.8 percent included supportive measures, such as diet
  • 86.8 percent included some form of risk disclosure
  • The average 60-second spot includes less than eight seconds devoted to risk disclaimers
  • 90 percent of ads placed risk information at beginning or end of the spot
  • Side effects were presented in an average of 6.3 seconds
  • 71 percent of side effects were presented in voice-over

Of the ads viewed, only two actually broke the law. Another 11 included the bare minimum information required by FDA, and 14 percent did not include side effects.

Study coauthor Wendy Macias, an associate professor in the UGA Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication, agrees that some side effects are less serious than others and fair balance should be determined on the basis of the seriousness of the risks, but she said that pharma needs to communicate the information in a way that the consumer can better understand the level of risk. Macias said, "At this point, it doesn't seem like they are really doing that."

The report does have flaws; most of the advertisements used in the study were from the summer of 2003, before many of the false-advertising claims that came in the wake of the Vioxx situation.

"I think advertising has changed some since 2003, but most companies could still be doing a much better job," Macias told Pharm Exec on Monday. She cited Johnson & Johnson's Ortho Evra as a brand that is doing a good job focusing on side effects and education. The report does state that print advertising does a much better job communicating medical information to the consumer.