FDA Plans To Study Effects of Direct-To-Consumer Prescription Drug Ads

Direct-to-consumer drug ads show pretty pictures of people laughing while running through fields of flowers and enjoying romantic dinners and such while a monotone voice speaks about side-effects like diarrhea, blot clots, and death. You’re watching, but are you really listening?

Or are you wondering if people really do take baths together in matching claw-foot tubs perched on the edge of a cliff at sunset? (Do they? If so, we’ve been missing out.)

The FDA would like to know if the full message is getting through, so they’re planning a study to see if all the pretty pictures are getting in the way of the warnings about side-effects.

We’re assuming that sending the FDA an email that says “Well, Duh” isn’t sufficient, so we’ll just have to wait and see what they find.

The Pictures Are Happy, the Words Are a Bummer
[WSJ Health Blog]


Edit Your Comment

  1. teqsundotcom says:

    my favorite add is the non drowsey claritain with side effects including drowsiness

  2. timmus says:

    Pfizer’s annual advertising budget alone is $3 billion. Maybe they can quit trying to hawk to Joe Consumer and put the money back into research.

  3. acambras says:

    LOL — is the lighthouse in that picture supposed to be some sort of phallic subliminal message?

  4. chinadoll724 says:

    It’s about time . . . the US and New Zealand are the only 2 countries allowing it right now and NZ’s looking to change that soon. We’ll have to overcome some major lobbying from Pharma though.

  5. Cowboys_fan says:

    I am one who is more likely to remember the words than the pictures so yeah, I’m listening. I’m also laughing at them, definately not with them.

  6. Recury says:

    Let’s dive deeper! All prescription drug ads should be a minimum of 5 minutes long so they can dive deeper.

  7. ry81984 says:

    I could never understand why Drug companies need to market prescription only drugs to consumers.

    If only a doctor can perscribe it, then it does nothing to make common people want it, unless they buy it illegally or their doctor will let them prescribe their own medication.

    Why advertise to people who have no legal authority to make the decision to take the drug?

  8. alice_bunnie says:

    I used to hate the ads that said, “Ask your doctor about Claritin. Claritin. Claritin. Claritin.” At that time I had no clue what Claritin was for. I believe that if they say what the drug is for they have to list all the side effects. However, they’re less annoying than all the ED ads that I have to brush off my 4 year old asking what it is. :/

  9. JMH says:

    @acambras: I don’t think there’s anything subliminal about it. The director of the commercial was probably just disappointed he couldn’t get the Washington Monument in the shot with it!

  10. beyond says:

    I’m glad I wasn’t the only one who didn’t have a clue what Claritin was. I think the ads are ridiculous. People get prescriptions because the doctor says something is wrong with them and the doc recommends it. They don’t all run to the doctor begging for drugs (well maybe some do). Doesn’t it make more sense to just advertise to the docs?

    Anyway, don’t most people just get the generics? I sure do.

  11. ironchef says:

    Too many “Ask your doctor” taglines.

    Frankly my doctor doesn’t care what the ads say to ask.

  12. BelBivDevolkswagen says:

    That Pfizer ad with the jugband of guys all rockin out in a roadhouse (seriously, “Viva Viagra”?), only to scurry away because the pill finally kicked in is pretty hilarious.

  13. spinachdip says:

    @ironchef: That’s true. But your doctor might care which pharm company’s rep gives him the most free samples, takes him out to the nicest restaurants and wears the shortest skirts. If you think the pharms have overblown ad budget, you should see the expense accounts their sales reps turn in. Doctors aren’t corrupt people generally (except for the ones that appear in drug ads, of course), but pharm reps would be out of business if it was simply about what was best for the patients.

  14. MercuryPDX says:

    @teqsundotcom: My favorite is the one for Mirapex (It treats Restless Leg Syndrome). Although I haven’t found it on their website FAQs, the commercial mentions “strange sexual urges, or the sudden urge to gamble” as a side effect.

    “Gee, my leg stopped bouncing, but suddenly I feel the need to go buy a hundred Powerball Tickets… right after I fellate my dog.”

  15. MercuryPDX says:

    Link to Mirapex Ad

    The gambling and sexual urges spiel is at :45.

  16. bohemian says:

    The govt. needs to do a two pronged smackdown on the pharma industry. They need to ban all consumer advertising for prescription drugs. They also need to ban any incentives or gifts beyond drug samples to doctors, hospitals or clinics. The first being the same issue as why liquor and smoking ads were banned, they could easily cite the high level of prescription drug abuse. The second being a conflict of interest.

    I was flipping through some women’s magazine waiting for an appointment. 3/4 of the content was prescription drug ads.

    Mirapex is my favorite stupid drug commercial also. Having drowsiness as a side effect of a drug to solve the problem that disrupts your sleep seems counter productive. The side effects of turning you into an out of control gambler that is scrogging strangers in the casino elevator, Wtf?

  17. uricmu says:

    I especially love the commercials for drugs that you have no idea what they are. When the Nexium ads first came out, they didn’t mention it was for acid reflux. They just kept telling “ask your doctor about the purple pill”, referring you to purplepill.com and so on. Initially I was sure this was some penis enlargement product, or at least something out of the Matrix. I mean, it’s a freaking heartburn medicine, why make it sound all special and sexy?

  18. allthatsevil says:

    @MercuryPDX: I know! I saw that commercial the other day, and that’s the part that stuck in my mind. ‘Sexual urges’ is not an uncommon drug side-effect, but gambling?

    I have RLS, so now I’m curious to see if a drug can make me want to gamble. Maybe I’ll ask my doc about it before that trip to Vegas…

  19. spinachdip says:

    @uricmu: IANAL, but my understand is that if you say what a drug works for, you also have to read the disclaimers. So I guess they’re just hoping you’d randomly call your doctor and say, “Hey doc, is Nexium right for me?”

    My favorite list of side effects is for Zoloft, which includes among other things, agitation, anxiety, decreased sex drive, loose stool, and in rare cases, mania.

    So it’s possible that you get your social anxiety disorder under control, but you might crap your pants, not want to have sex and act all crazy. That’s just great.

  20. ironchef says:


    Thankfully, my doctor has a fully functional Bullshit meter.

    He comes from a wealthy family and extravagant sales promotions don’t do the trick.

    he and I went to med school together. Except he graduated and I didn’t. Except he’s partial to cute sales reps though.

  21. Trai_Dep says:

    They should have a voice-over AND a text crawl. Or better still, white letters on black background (but give Big Pharma a bone: let them choose the font).

    Pushing drugs via pretty pictures to an uneducated audience to get patients to ignorantly nag their doctor (this on top of the marketing which goes to doctors, which is considerable) isn’t about health. It’s about over-proscribing as a way to boost revenues. It’s horrible social policy. And expensive as Hell (paid by us).

  22. feralparakeet says:


    Like the Celebrex ad? Ew, no thanks.