Wednesday, April 08, 2015

How to Gloss Over Warnings in TV DTC Ads

Julieta Smith, group strategy director, McCann Humancare -- part of the same healthcare agency that won a Lions Health 2014 GOLD award for Fictional Patient Story (not that that's a good thing compared to a REAL patient story that only won a BRONZE award) -- thinks that the same “generic” warning repeated in all direct-to-consumer (DTC) drug ads would be more effective than SPECIFIC warnings now required by the FDA.

In an article/blog post written for MM&M (here), Smith suggests ALL drug DTC ads on TV just end with this warning message:

“All drugs carry certain risks and should not be used by everyone. These risks can range from inconveniences to the risk of death. You should talk to your doctor to determine your specific risks, reasons you might not be a candidate to use this drug, and any side effects and warnings that may pertain to you personally before you take it. To learn more visit”

Pardon the phrase, but this is an example of “putting lipstick on a pig.” Maybe it's not PC, but I think that's an appropriate analogy.

Smith believes this is a solution to a major problem with TV DTC advertising.

According to Smith:

“Those of us who have worked for years in healthcare communications know a few things about DTC advertising: first, we know that consumers generally tune out the part of the TV ad that follows the promotional message and that very few people ever read the bottom, let alone the back, of a DTC print ad. Years of DTC advertising (and comedic spoofs of it) have led consumers to believe that most prescriptions drugs will do one of four things: kill them, give them a 4-hour erection, bestow on them the uncontrollable runs, or present a problem if they are taking an MAOI, whatever that is.”

How can both be true? Either consumers hear the safety message or they don't. What Smith doesn't like is the fact that they DO hear it.

BTW, I think most marketers -- especially marketers of relatively “safe” drugs -- would not like the word “death” mentioned in their ads if that “side effect” is not part of the drug's FDA-approved label.

To add insult to faulty thinking, Smith cited the tobacco industry as a model for pharma to follow. As if the drug industry needed to learn from one of the only other industries despised more (only slightly) by consumers than the pharma industry! I won't even bother to explain how it's a model. You should read her piece yourself.

Smith ends her piece by suggesting that the FDA change its recent brief summary guidelines by “entertaining” this “modern, responsible and rational approach” to use her own words. What hubris!

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