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Drug Ads Educate, Inform

Those warnings of all the side effects that can arise from prescription medication may be distracting, but they seem to be doing their job of making consumers feel they're getting a fair and balanced picture of the product's benefits and risks.

According to Prevention magazine's 13th annual national survey of consumers about DTC advertising, 79% of consumers have seen and heard the federally mandated risks mentioned during television DTC ads. Roughly three-quarters of consumers say they pay a lot or some attention to those messages and find the information very or somewhat useful.

Comparatively, only 73% of consumers say they have heard a drug's benefits during DTC advertising, with 63% saying they pay a lot or some attention and 75% saying they find that information useful. In print, 48% of consumers report hearing the risks of a drug, while 52% said they have heard the benefits. Because those numbers are not particularly far apart, consumers seem to be receiving the information in equal measures, says Cary Silvers, director of consumer insights for Prevention publisher Rodale Inc.

"Even though it looks like they're paying more attention to the risks, they're really not," Silvers tells Marketing Daily . "They're aware of the risks to benefits in equal proportions."

Much of that comes from the well-known formula that companies are using to advertise medication. The benefits are presented, followed by a voiceover or full page of text explaining the risks. "That recognition of formula is what consumers understand," Silvers says.

Online, however, is an entirely different story. For online advertising, only 37% of consumers said they have seen and heard the risks associated with a drug advertised online, while 54% have heard the benefits. For those who have seen and heard the risk, 69% paid some or a lot of attention and 75% said the information was very or somewhat useful.

On the benefit side, 57% said they pay a lot of attention, while 76% found the information useful. "The FDA has been asking questions about how risk is communicated online and I think that was a fair question to ask," Silvers says.

Yet consumers continue to turn to the Internet -- particularly social media -- for researching health information. According to the survey, 60% of online consumers use social media. User-generated sites such as Wikipedia and online forums such as PatientsLikeMe.com had a search following of 42% (both up 6% over last year), while health-related blogs like Rateadrug.com followed at 30% (up 3%). According to the survey, 76% of online consumers look for others who share their medical condition for information, trumping doctors (73%) and friends and family (66%).

"That's an extension of word-of-mouth. But now it's superheated because you can access it at any time of day and from anywhere," Silvers says. "The pharmaceutical industry has to recognize the role that it has in social networking."

With all of this research, patients are not any more or less influenced to talk with their doctors about a specific drug. Only a third of consumers reported they had a conversation about a medication based on an advertisement (a level that has remained stable for 13 years). However, 19% of consumers asked the doctor to prescribe the medicine (down 9% from 2009), while 79% said they simply had a discussion about the medication.


Aaron Baar, Marketing Daily. July 16, 2010

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