The FDA has started a process to improve DTC print ads by allowing companies to replace complicated medical with the use of “simplified” language. While this is a great first step, there are a lot of opportunities to improve DTC marketing in a “patient” driven environment.
The old model of DTC advertising was based on the belief that consumers would see an ad for a prescription drug and ask their doctor for a prescription if they believed it was right for them. Today, however, most research indicates that consumers are going online in increased numbers to learn about prescription drugs and their side effects. Additionally, patients also have to cross a number of hurdles in order to get an Rx, including approval from insurers who are trying to control costs.
I led and was involved with a lot of qualitative and quantitative research on DTC ads over the last two years and some of the key findings were that most patients found “fair balance” language too complicated and that while ads increased awareness of treatment options, a majority of patients researched disease conditions and prescription drugs before talking to their doctor. The implications of this are broad for both the FDA and drug marketers.
Fair balance in TV spots and on the home page of drug websites may not be needed. The key for a TV commercial’s call to action should be to visit the product website or talk to your doctor. In addition, the FDA should not require fair balance on drug websites but instead focus on the “drug safety page.” Website analytics continue to show that these pages are usually in the top five pages of views by users. Efforts should be made to continue to simplify fair balance and drug marketers would do well to include a link or roll-overs for complicated medical terms right out of the PI.
More Research Needed
The FDA needs to conduct more research on the actions consumers are taking when exposed to both print and TV ads and make it easier to communicate and understand drug risks and benefits. They might find, for example, that a minimum amount of fair balance is needed in TV spots versus the full fair balance statements which can take up 50% of commercials.
The same can be said of social media. We know from published reports that consumers are using social media for health but what needs more clarification is the effect social media posts have on patient behavior to ask for and fill prescriptions.
The FDA’s decision to try and improve print advertising is a good one and there exists a lot of opportunity for improvement. The FDA needs to have their fingers on the pulse of how consumers are making treatment decisions and the best way to communicate in today’s patient-centered environment.