Another reason change is needed at FDA? Fair balance


  • Consumers don’t real pay attention to fair balance in TV ads.
  • Pharma TV ads drive people online to search for more information.
  • Safety pages on Pharma product websites continue to have high utility.
  • Only requirement in TV ads should be for “boxed” products.

As we have seen over the past few years, Pharma companies are a business, a regulated business, but still a business. Patient behavior has changed during the pandemic as Google has shown that more are going online for health information. To portray patients, mindless people who blindly believe DTC TV ads and rush to their doctor to ask for a product are inaccurate.

The latest TV upfront set some records because people ARE watching TV again. Bob Hoffman, the Ad Contrarian, said “Nielsen gave us a little idea of what’s really going on. It turns out that after all these years, traditional TV viewing (over-the-air and cable) account for about 2/3 of all TV viewing and streaming accounts for only about 25%.┬áThe rest of TV time is used for gaming. Despite all the hype about Netflix, it accounts for about 2% of TV viewing”.

Data for Pharma indicates that 76% of DTC budgets go to TV. I expect that to continue. Frankly, digital is a huge mess right now with fraud and changing privacy standards. I expect that Pharma will continue to invest heavily in TV spots, but I don’t understand the need for fair balance in TV ads for the life of me.

Prescription drugs are not the same as items found in a grocery store. People don’t see an ad for a prescription drug and say, “oh, I need that!”. They go online to learn more. If the FDA understood consumer behavior like marketers instead of scientists, they would understand how DTC works. More importantly, the FDA needs to work with online sites to eliminate health misinformation.

The FDA has a LOT of problems right now, and in my opinion, they are failing to protect patients from bad health information and drugs that don’t work. I’ve been pretty vocal about the need to address healthcare changes, and a good start would be with the FDA. Drug company applications should not fund the FDA; rather, they should be funded by a general fund that ALL drug companies pay annually. I also feel that FDA representatives should be assigned an office within certain drug companies to work with that company to develop, submit and get drug approvals through the system faster.

I just finished watching a Zoom call where people evaluated a new DTC spot. There was zero mention of fair balance warnings by the groups. Their comments were around who was in the commercial and the messages that were communicated. Interestingly, out of 37 people, not one said they would ask their doctor about the product based on the TV spot alone. That’s pretty telling.

Based on Novo’s PR for its new diabetes drug, I saw a spike in both online searches and traffic to their product website. This is normal, and the FDA should take note. Stop treating patients like they are dummies. Most are smart enough to go online or get more information before asking their doctor about/for the drug. Will the FDA ever leap to the current century?