The FDA is going to study the impact of repeated exposure of DTC TV ads to the mental recall of risks versus benefits. Is this a further indication that the FDA has lost touch with how patients are making treatment decisions?
In the 90s, when prescription drug advertising required fair balance, the environment of marketing to consumers was much different than it is today. With the saturation of Internet access and changes to healthcare, via the Affordable Care Act (ObamaCare) we are seeing patients become “consumers of healthcare.” What this means for DTC marketers is that target audiences are not going to see DTC TV ads and run to their doctor to ask for the product. Today most patients take action by going online to asses the risks of prescription drugs before they ask their doctors for or about the product.
Over the last few years I have been part of qualitative research for DTC TV ads and what we learned is that target audiences will not blindly ask their doctors for drugs advertised on TV. Patients today want to know more, such as cost of the products and how potential side effects are going to impact their quality of life.
We did hear that target audiences do pick up on key terms in TV DTC ads such as “serious, sometimes fatal side effects have been reported.” There is also a correlation between education and the ability to research and understand fair balance and safety information. The higher the education, the more the target audience understands “risks.”
The FDA needs to better understand what consumers are doing after being exposed to TV ads for prescription drugs and what sources of information they are using to make healthcare treatment decisions. Since most people go online to “learn more” it should come as no surprise that usually one of the top 10 webpages viewed on a drug.com website is safety information. This page is critical in determining if a patient is going to ask for a product as they personally evaluate risks versus benefits. If it’s a serious or chronic health condition patients will also use multiple sources of online information, social media, health portals, before making the decision to ask their doctor for or about the product.
More and more consumers are multitasking when watching TV thanks to mobile devices. The FDA should therefore study the actions consumers take after being exposed to DTC TV ads with and without fair balance. Do, for example, consumers go online to learn more about a prescription drug after seeing a TV ad? What effect does fair balance have on follow up actions and what terms hinder or reinforce follow-up actions?
The FDA needs to better understand how consumers of healthcare are making treatment choices and more and more that is not just TV ads.