Direct-to-Consumer Drug Marketing:
Public Service or Disservice?
Pharmaceutical industry spending on direct-to-consumer advertising has been increasing rapidly.
the primary goal of direct-to-consumer advertising is to sell drugs, supposed secondary goals include
patient education and improved health.
However, these benefits of direct-to-consumer advertising are
Moreover, such advertising may create unnecessary tension between the patient and the
patient’s physician and insurer, and may divert physicians’ efforts away from important patient concerns,
and toward marketing-generated discussions.
On the other hand, direct-to-consumer advertising may
lead to patient-doctor encounters that would not have occurred otherwise.
ing should be modified to unambiguously benefit the health-care interests of consumers and patients.
Prescription drugs, pharmaceutical industry, marketing, advertising.
(DTC) marketing is a
growing area of pharmaceutical industry activ-
Currently, such activity is of unclear net
benefit to patients.
Arguments supporting DTC
advertising include its informational content
and patient empowerment through education.
However, the primary goal of DTC advertising
is to sell medication.
The primary motivation is
Is DTC advertising benign,
helpful, or harmful to patients?
To date, the ef-
fects of DTC advertising have not been studied
rigorously, although some data exist.
essay, we discuss implications of DTC advertis-
ing and suggest alternative approaches which
are more apt to support patients’ interests.
The pharmaceutical industry is one of the
most profitable industries on the Fortune 500
In this high stakes arena, a single success-
ful drug can generate billions of dollars in rev-
Research and development for failed
drugs can cost billions of dollars as well.
sures to generate revenue have led the pharma-
ceutical industry to direct advertising to pa-
tients in addition to health-care professionals.
For some drugs, such as Claritin
90% of promotional spending is directed to-
ward consumers (1).
While spending on adver-
tising in medical journals is decreasing, DTC
advertising spending for prescription drugs is
In 1996, $600 million was
By 1999, annual spending exceeded
$1.5 billion (1).
Drug manufacturers may find
that generating consumer demand is an effec-
tive supplemental strategy to alter managed
care formularies, because physicians’ influence
and prescribing autonomy are constrained
within these plans.
Some managed care organi-
zations are responding to these pharmaceutical
industry initiatives by providing physicians
with guidance in dealing with patient requests
for non-covered proprietary drugs.