Discovery Guides Areas


Direct-to-Consumer Advertising of Pharmaceuticals
(Released March 2008)

  by Amy Shaw  


Key Citations





A popular sleep advertisement shows an unshaven insomniac at a kitchen table with Abe Lincoln and a talking beaver. "When you can't sleep, you can't dream," intones the narrator. "That's why there's Rozerem."

In the summer of 2006, Takeda Pharmaceuticals North America Inc. launched a massive advertising campaign telling insomniacs that their dreams miss them and that the sleeping pill, Rozerem, can reunite them. This advertisement joined a host of others that pitch prescription drugs directly to consumers. The first DTC television advertisement, for the British company Boots Pharmaceuticals Inc. anti-arthritis drug called Rufen, aired in the early 1980s (Donohue, 2006).
Rozerem Ad
Today, a typical American television viewer can expect to spend 16 hours per year watching DTC drug advertisements (Frosch et al, 2007). DTC advertising is concentrated among a small number of drugs for chronic conditions such as insomnia, depression and erectile dysfunction. Attesting to their ability to generate sales, DTC advertisements are everywhere. They are broadcast on TV and the radio; they are on Web sites and billboards; and they fill the pages of newspapers and magazines.

Consumer groups such as the U.S. Public Interest Research Group (U.S. PIRG) say that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) needs to increase its oversight of DTC advertisements of pharmaceuticals to prevent consumers from being harmed by misleading advertising. Many physicians worry that these advertisements are a danger to the doctor-patient relationship and that they cause patients to request drugs that they do not need. The pharmaceutical industry asserts that they educate patients on treatment options, empowering them in discussions with their doctors. According to their association, the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), these DTC advertisements can increase the likelihood that patients will contact their physicians to discuss and receive appropriate care for conditions that are often under-diagnosed and under-treated (PhRMA, 2005). The National Consumers League calls these advertisements "an effective vehicle that motivates consumers to seek information" and says that it "can hardly be a bad thing" if they encourage doctor-patient dialog (Donohue, 2006).

Go To Trends in DTC Advertising Spending

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