DTC Ads Need To Communicate Risk Information More Effectively, Study Finds

If pharma companies wish to stimulate further interest in their products, they might want to orient their DTC (direct-to-consumer) prescription drug ads toward the nation's 93 million caregivers. And if they hope to drive consumers to the physicians who can prescribe said products, they should strive to communicate risk information more clearly within their ads.

Those were among the surprising revelations in the seventh annual national DTC survey, sponsored by Rodale titles Men's Health and Prevention. Unveiled Thursday at a luncheon in New York, the study was conducted with assistance from the Food and Drug Administration's Division of Drug Marketing, Advertising, and Communication.

With 46 percent of U.S. adults serving as a caregiver to some extent--whether to a child, a parent, or a non-relative--they obviously comprise an enormous audience for drug manufacturers. They are also enormously attentive, relying on the "brief summary" of print DTC ads (you know, the page with all the small print) and actively seeking out information on the Web and elsewhere.

"[Caregivers] are significantly more likely to ask a doctor about advertised medicine," affirmed Rodale Director, Advertising and Trend Research, Ed Slaughter. "They're kind of hyper-information-seekers."

Of the adults who have asked a physician about an advertised medication, 38 percent provide care to somebody else, as opposed to the 20 percent who do not. Alternately, patients with a caregiver tend to ask about advertised products more than those without a caregiver, by a margin of 53 percent to 35 percent.

Turning his attention to the communication of risk information in DTC ads, Slaughter conceded that it "isn't where it can be or should be." The study found that only 32 percent of consumers feel that DTC ads provide enough information about the risks and benefits of a given medication. However, of those consumers who talked with a physician after seeing a DTC ad, 43 percent said that the ads offer enough information.

Clarity seems to be somewhat of a problem in the communication of risks associated with a given product. Of the consumers who have seen a DTC ad on TV, 36 percent said the risk information was "not too" or "not at all" clear. Print ads fared slightly better, with 88 percent of those who read the "major statement" (the ad page with pictures) stating that they found that statement either "very" or "somewhat" clear. Still, only 23 percent of respondents said they had seen a major statement.

As for what media and advertising types should take away from the study, Slaughter offered a handful of conclusions beyond those about risk information and communicating with caregivers. Most, however, boiled down to one maxim: good consumer information is good business. "The need for information is so great," he said.