Even as a movement grows to limit drug ads aimed at consumers, very few people say advertising prompts them to ask their doctors about the medicines being promoted, according to a survey released on Monday.
To be specific, only 7 percent of those queried reported that they made a point of speaking with a doctor about a drug after seeing it advertised on television, according to the survey conducted by Treato, a market research firm. And this was down from 21 percent in a previous survey.
Moreover, 76 percent are not inclined to pay attention to an ad just because a celebrity is pitching the medicine; 46 percent want drug ads banned from the Super Bowl; and 80 percent say they are not inclined to pay more attention to animated characters hawking drugs.
The findings suggest that many consumers may not be easily swayed by the plethora of direct-to-consumer advertising seen on television, a controversial issue that has prompted moves by lawmakers and physicians to restrict this form of promotion.
Spending to promote medicines on TV totaled nearly $3.7 billion last year, up 31 percent from 2014, according to Kantar Media. Overall, the pharmaceutical industry spent about $5.4 billion last year on advertising, a 19 percent increase from $4.5 billion the year before.
Over the past few months, the American Medical Association called for a ban on consumer drug ads, while one congressional lawmaker proposed a three-year moratorium. Another lawmaker wants to end the tax breaks that are given to drug makers for their advertising.
As we have noted previously, consumer groups and physicians have argued that ever since the US Food and Drug Administration revised guidelines in 1997 to permit drug makers to use broadcast advertising, some ads too often encourage patients to seek medicines unnecessarily.
The AMA — and the lawmakers that proposed the various bills — has also argued that advertising can inflate health care costs if consumers are prompted to seek newer, higher-priced medicines that drug makers may advertise to quickly trigger sales.
Impact or no impact, the advertising is being noticed. The survey found that 64 percent of consumers said they felt like they saw more drug ads on TV last year. During the past year, drug ads on TV increased by 26 percent, according to Medical Marketing & Media.
And some forms of drug advertising rub consumers the wrong way. The survey discovered that 75 percent of the respondents believe that ads for erectile dysfunction pills and low libido drugs should only be shown after 9 pm or not at all.
Of course, this is just one survey and the sample size is not all that large, at least in relation to the overall population exposed to TV ads promoting medicines. Nonetheless, the findings do provide a glimpse into consumer thinking at a time when drug makers are pouring more money into ads.
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The FDA may also want to take note. The agency is conducting a study to determine the extent to which animated characters in TV ads distort consumer understanding of side effect risks. This is the latest in a string of studies that the agency has pursued to gauge the impact of advertising on consumers.