Thoughts on Direct to Consumer Drug Ads
I hate them. I also have a novel solution to the problem: Don’t let pharmaceuticals use the drug’s name in the commercial. Let them just say something like, “If you’re suffering from XYZ, talk to your doctor. There are medications available to treat these symptoms.”
How much longer will you be able to see advertisements in which a person blissfully runs through a field after taking some kind of antiallergy medication? Or those in which a down-and-out man is suddenly sunny after being prescribed an antidepressant? How much longer will you giggle at that commercial with the warning that you should call a doctor if a certain condition lasts more than four hours? (See the best and worst Super Bowl commercials of 2009.)
These are questions that keep drug companies, as well as the television stations and magazines that subsist on their ad dollars, up at night (Ambien, anyone?). Direct-to-consumer (DTC) advertising by pharmaceutical companies has always been somewhat controversial. The U.S. is one of only two countries that permit it (New Zealand is the other). Critics claim that these advertisements encourage consumers to seek out overly expensive brand-name drugs from doctors. Their symptoms might not require such medications, and when they do, cheaper generic drugs may be available. Such marketing probably drives up overall health-care costs. More important, new drugs that are aggressively marketed can pose a safety risk. Merck's heavy promotion of pain reliever Vioxx — look at Dorothy Hamill skating without any strain! — is a prime example of advertising gone awry. The drug was later taken off the market after it was found to increase risk for heart attacks.