The debate on DTC marketing is going to heat up again


  • DTC marketing is not the reason why prescription drugs cost so much.
  • DTC ads raise awareness around health conditions.
  • DTC ads do NOT lead to unnecessary Rxs.
  • The FDA needs to study what people do when they see a DTC ad.

The voices in Washington DC are once again calling for a moratorium on DTC marketing but lawmakers need to understand what DTC marketing actually does as upped to what people believe it does. Here are some myths around DTC marketing:

1ne: DTC ads result in patients asking for prescriptions they don’t need. This is perhaps the biggest misunderstanding. Today, people don’t see a DTC TV ad and run to their doctor to ask for an Rx. They research the drug online and ask their physician about it if they decide it’s a treatment option.

2wo: DTC marketing is one of the reasons prescription drugs cost so much. Again this is not true. Drug pricing is done by internal teams who look at what the market will bear and the competitive landscape. Some DTC budgets are only released when certain sales targets are hit. If drug companies didn’t do any DTC marketing, it would not affect drug prices.

3hree: DTC marketing minimizes the side effects of prescription drugs – One of the top pages within prescription drug websites continues to be “safety information.” Patients want to understand how the drug works and the potential side effects before starting therapy.

4our: DTC marketing should be illegal because it leads to unnecessary Rx’s. Again, this is a huge misunderstanding. First, a vast majority of prescription drugs are available as generics. Second, a physician is not going to prescribe a drug a patient doesn’t need. Finally, patients won’t ask for a drug if the co-pay is too high.

The FDA, in its wisdom, has never studied what patients actually do when they see a DTC TV ad. 93% go online to learn more and educate themselves about the product or health condition. Still, the gatekeeper continues to be their doctor. Patients trust doctors to recommend drugs that will help them treat chronic health issues.

Given all the above, I can safely say that DTC TV ads are terrible. Dancers, to promote women’s birth control? DTC marketers still don’t understand the online health seekers’ journey from awareness to getting an Rx. One of the biggest changes in consumer behavior happened because of the panic; going online to get accurate information. This is especially true when it comes to Rx drugs. Over the last year, I have seen a triple-digit increase in people talking to each other online about health issues and prescription drugs outside of COVID.

Drug company websites read like medical journals, and most people have to spend more time online to get the information they need to make a decision. DTC marketing has raised awareness about the dangers of high cholesterol, new treatments for cancers, and how to treat high blood pressure and diabetes.

It’s easy to jump on the bandstand and say we want lower drug prices, so cut DTC marketing, but that’s not true. If drug prices are to come down, the federal government needs to negotiate drug prices for Medicare, and a new breed of CEO, who really puts patients first, needs to take control.