It’s About Time to Ban Pharma DTC Ads
By: Elena Chaikin February, 18th, 2017
The power of Hollywood filming seeps into the drug-making industry. Look at the shiny, well-edited,
beautifully filmed (admittedly) National Campaign called “Go Boldly.” It’s costing many millions each
year, and the campaign should last for the next three years. Big pharma focuses way more on the
marketing of drugs than actual research.
In 2015, pharma spent $5.17 billion on direct-to-consumer advertising. If you include over-the-counter
medication, the total is $9.5 billion. Not only does the campaign glamorize scientific research, the awful
truth is that pharmaceutical companies spend far more on marketing than R&D in laboratories. Most don’t
know this but laboratories are funded primarily by governments and nonprofits.
My family has been friends with a number scientists for a long time, and I’ve often heard our friends complain about the low funding they get for their research. Projects are prioritized,
and higher-ups are desperate to patent any insights that appear profitable. One of our friends, Pavel Shianov, quit his job at a big corporation after his lab work was seized and patented by someone else, presumably someone higher up than him.
Maria and Andrei Krasilnikov, a married couple, both professors in State College, PA, teach college students in order to keep their middle-class lives because they never actually reaped the profits they should’ve had from their hard scientific research and discoveries. Consequences of the decisions made by those above, in this case pharma corps, trickles all the way down.
What about the rest of the world? Before 2008, when Brazil started allowing DTC advertising, only the U.S. and New Zealand permitted it. Profits are still made in other countries without the need to show ridiculous and often times confusing television spots in order to get patients to buy this medication, or that one.
Enough advertising is done by the doctors themselves. While my father, who is an Anesthesiologist, doesn’t prescribe many drugs to patients, recently he went to a see his own doctor for neck pain and left the appointment curious to try a new muscle relaxant. My dad even got a coupon! He knew very well that this would profit the corporations, but I suppose he was actually curious about the new drug. Still, this left me annoyed.
Physicians were asked to participate in a survey over several months in the summer of 2016, and the results only confirm the fact that DTC isn’t all that great. 65% of doctors say that their patients get confused by the ads on TV. Sure the ads might peek interest, but the actual doctor’s appointments are what drive the conversation. Doctors answer questions concretely and help pacify concerns of patients.
I take Humira, a serious medication for Crohn's Disease, and I hardly paid attention to the TV ad I’ve seen many times times over as I watch my (reality) shows. Not only does the ad sugar coat Humira, but speaking with my doctor about it--how the medication works, what risks there are, side effects, etc--made me much more confident in taking it.
DTC advertising of drugs just isn’t as effective as having a person-to-person conversation with a medical professional--a lot of the ads are insensitive and try to influence the emotions of viewers, too. Medicine is supposed to present cold, hard facts, not screw with your head like homeopathy. Hell, even President Trump voiced his opinion on the Pharmaceutical Industry, saying that it was “getting away with murder.”
Prices are soaring. Patients can’t afford their medications--like what happened with the Epi-Pen last year. Corporations just want to squeeze every last penny out of the poor populus.
The whole industry needs to be revamped, starting with the banning of expensive, shiny TV campaigns. Those starving Hollywood directors can find other things to direct, like music videos. And then money will go to R&D where the real work can happen. More lives will be saved, and instead of wasting time on marketing, the industry can actually progress into the future and find more cures, like for my Crohn’s.
Elena Chaikin was born in Russia and grew up in the United States. With a BA in Creative Writing under her belt, she is now working on her MA in PR & Advertising at DePaul University in Chicago.