TVB study: DTC disclosures lend credibility to drug ads

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While pharmaceutical marketers chafe under requirements that compel them to list major risks in broadcast ads, a new study suggests that the mention of possible side effects might actually lend credibility.

In the survey of more than 2,000 adults by the Television Bureau of Advertising, 62% of respondents said they find direct-to-consumer drug ads trustworthy, more than any other category.

Overall, health-oriented ads led the way in consumer perception of trustworthiness, with 61.3% of respondents saying ads for over-the-counter products can be trusted and 56.4% saying that's the case for health products in general.

DTC and the other categories far outpaced consumer perception of trustworthiness for car and truck ads (50.6%), insurance (41.8%) and beauty aids (41%).

The side-effect listings -- which often strike a dissonant note in DTC ads -- may convey a sense of balance about the promoted products, said Chris Rohrs, TVB president.

"Somehow it's the weaving in of cautionary information that seems to make them more trustworthy," he said.

Of course, a consumer could find an ad trustworthy and still be discouraged by the nature of the side-effect profile. Industry observers have speculated one of the most-promoted DTC products of late, weight-loss drug Xenical from Hoffmann-La Roche, suffered from ads that listed stomach gas and increased bowel movements as risks.

The TVB study is the first of several DTC effectiveness studies scheduled to be released in coming weeks, with annual surveys from Time Inc. and Rodale's Prevention to follow.


As a rule, the studies from organizations reaping the benefits of the DTC ad boom tout the effectiveness of the medium. Several examples from the TVB survey: Some 32.4% of respondents who saw or were aware of DTC ads on TV consulted a doctor as a result; and 34% said doctors prescribed the medication they discussed.

But DTC efficacy, like ad effectiveness in general, continues to be the subject of much debate. Another recent study, from consultancy Morpace Pharmaceutical Group, concluded that only 4% of adults have asked physicians for a specific drug prompted by a DTC effort.

"You get the impression from a lot of the reports out there that DTC is the overwhelming factor driving the market and we don't believe that's the case," said Ann Lee, a partner in Lee Analytics, who analyzed the Morpace study.

Still, even if only 4% of Americans inquire about a drug, the return on investment for a drug company can be huge. And evidence suggests that DTC advertising is working at some levels.


Nearly three years after the U.S. Food & Drug Administration loosened restrictions on broadcast ads, blue-chip marketers continue to earmark millions of dollars to support their products.

And TVB, which represents local stations in all 210 U.S. markets, wants a bigger piece of that pie for its members. (Figures from Competitive Media Reporting provided by TVB show DTC spot TV generated $89.8 million in spending last year, less than 20% of the total taken in each by magazines and network TV.) One of its pitches: Marketers can be more cost-effective and targeted by buying time at the local level.

Most categories show the top 25 markets yield 50% of the country's sales volume, Mr. Rohrs said. Local ads also allow regional targeting, such as promoting older-skewing drugs in Arizona and Florida and allergy drugs where and when pollen counts are high.

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