Direct-to-consumer advertising

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Direct-to-consumer advertising (DTC advertising) usually refers to the marketing of pharmaceutical products but also applies to the direct marketing of medical devices, consumer diagnostics and sometimes financial services. This form of advertising is directed toward patients, rather than healthcare professionals. The Food and Drug Administration is responsible for regulating DTC advertising in the United States. The FDA’s latest version of guidelines, though still in draft form, for pharmaceutical drug advertising was updated in 2009.[1] Forms of DTC advertising include TV, print, radio and other mass and social media. There are ethical and regulatory concerns regarding DTC advertising, specifically the extent to which these ads may unduly influence the prescribing of the prescription medicines based on consumer demands when, in some cases, they may not be medically necessary.

Nations permitting DTC[edit]

To date three nations permit DTC in the pharmaceutical industry [2]

  • New Zealand (1981)
  • United States (1997)
  • Brazil (2008) – In 2008 a new resolution from ANVISA (Control Agency for Sanitary Vigilance)- Resolution 96 from December 17 was released, with focus on medication advertisement. It allows direct-to-consumer advertising of non-prescription medication, with restrictions on the type of drug and words and images that can be used, among other things.[3]

Pharmaceutical industry controversy[edit]

All Western nations, with the exception of New Zealand and the United States, have historically (since the 1940s for Australasia, North America, and Europe) banned direct advertising of pharmaceuticals to consumers.[4]

In 2002, the Secretary of Health and Human Services began requiring all draft FDA regulatory letters, including letters related to advertising violations, to be reviewed and approved by the FDA's Office of Chief Counsel before they are issued.[5]

On 2 August 2005, Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America released its Guiding Principles on Direct to Consumer Advertisements About Prescription Medicines, with the intent to stop congressional action to end industry self-regulation.[6]

This great amount of advertising has been successful in raising the prescription rate of DTC drugs by 34.2% from 1998 to 1999, compared to only a 5.1% increase in other prescriptions during the same time.[7]

The apparent commercial success of DTC advertising drew criticism from public health officials and physicians.[8]

On 17 November 2015, the American Medical Association called for a ban on all U.S. prescription drug and medical device advertising directly to consumers. Representatives of the leading physician's association argued that such commercial broadcasts encourage patients to take medications unnecessarily and to choose more expensive drugs. However, such a ban would require authorization by the United States Congress.[9]

On 4 March 2016, Senator Al Franken introduced a bill to Congress that would eliminate tax breaks for pharmaceutical companies advertising directly to consumers. In a similar move, representative Rosa DeLauro called for a three-year moratorium on advertising of newly approved prescription drugs. Such bans on advertising have faced substantial criticism by the pharmaceutical industry. Representatives from Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) stated that drug advertising campaigns are aimed at providing consumers with information to become actively involved in their own health care.[10]

Financial services[edit]

Consumer vulnerability to deceptive advertising is also particularly acute in the area of financial services. Individuals often have little knowledge of the workings of credit, leases, and security agreements. It is sometimes difficult to obtain information on such subjects that would be meaningful to the average consumer, so it is especially important that consumers be on guard against misleading or fraudulent advertisement. Because of the great inequality of bargaining power in this area, the government often backs up the consumer with protective laws.[11][12]


  1. ^
  2. ^ Bulletin of the World Health Organization. Direct-to-consumer advertising under fire. The World Health Organization (WHO). Retrieved 4 January 2017.
  3. ^
  4. ^ Ventola, C. Lee. "Direct-to-consumer pharmaceutical advertising: therapeutic or toxic?." Pharmacy and Therapeutics 36.10 (2011): 669.
  5. ^ Donohue, J. M.; Cevasco, M.; Rosenthal, M. B. (2007). "A Decade of Direct-to-Consumer Advertising of Prescription Drugs". New England Journal of Medicine. 357 (7): 673–681. doi:10.1056/nejmsa070502. 
  6. ^ Arnold, Matthew (2006-10-01). 40 years of DTC. MMM, 1 October 2006. Retrieved from
  7. ^ Sheehan, Kim. Controversies in Contemporary Advertising; Sage Publications, Thousand Oaks, CA, 2003; pp 209-215.
  8. ^ Kerber, Ross. Doctors Criticize Sleeping-Pill Ad (Lunesta from Sepracor Inc.). Boston Globe, Boston, Aug. 18, 2005, p HS05.
  9. ^ E Silverman (2015). "American Medical Association wants to ban drug ads to consumers". STAT (Pharmalot). Retrieved 4 January 2017.
  10. ^ E Silverman (2016)."Lawmaker seeks to end tax breaks for consumer drug ads". STAT (Pharmalot). Retrieved 4 January 2017.
  11. ^ Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System. 1981. What Truth in Lending Means to You
  12. ^ Rist, Marilee C. 1989. Mass Marketers Have a Sweet Deal for You, but There Are Strings Attached. American School Board Journal (176)9, 20-24.

Further reading[edit]

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