Direct-to-consumer advertising by drug companies is big. And, as nearly everyone who watches TV knows, it’s getting bigger.
Laura Ries was moved to action when she saw a TV commercial that portrayed a woman enjoying time with her grandchildren after taking Lyrica, a prescription medication for diabetic nerve pain. Ries’ elderly mother suffered from just that problem.
“The ad showed someone who was enjoying life again,” said Ries, president of a marketing strategy firm in Atlanta, who then researched the drug and spoke with her mother’s doctor. “This … was very relatable to what my mom was experiencing.”
Her reaction was precisely the aim of direct-to-consumer (DTC) advertising: getting patients or their family members to remember a drug’s name and ask by name for a prescription.
Spending on such commercials grew 62 percent since 2012, even as ad spending for most other product types was flat.
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“Pharmaceutical advertising has grown more in the past four years than any other leading ad category,” said Jon Swallen, chief research officer at Kantar Media, a consulting firm that tracks multimedia advertising. It exceeded $6 billion last year, with television picking up the lion’s share, according to Kantar data.
Shows such as the major network’s evening news programs, the comedy “Mike & Molly” and daytime drama “General Hospital” are heavy with drug ads, Kantar data show.
But the proliferation of drug advertisements has generated new controversy, in part because the ads inevitably promote high-priced drugs, some of which doctors say have limited practical utility for the average patient-viewer.
The cost of Lyrica, the drug Ries asked about for her mom, is about $400 for 60 capsules, for example. Critics say the ads encourage patients to ask their doctors for expensive, often marginal — and sometimes inappropriate — drugs that are…