When a consumer experiences an adverse side effect from use of a prescription drug, the FDA wants to know about it. The problem in that most of these consumers have no idea that FDA has a program called MediaWatch specifically set up to gather data about such problems. The Consumers Union says one out of six consumers have had a side effect serious enough to warrant a visit to a doctor or hospital, and that six out of six pharmaceutical ads should be required to provide information on the FDA reporting program.
"You can’t turn on a TV today without seeing a drug ad, but those ads never mention that consumers should be reporting serious drug side effects to the FDA," said Consumers Union’s Liz Foley. "What better way for the FDA to let consumers know how to report serious problems with their medications than putting a toll-free number and website in all those drug ads we’re bombarded by each day?"
Congress has required that pharmas cite MediaWatch in print advertising, but is still awaiting an FDA report on the desirability of imposing a similar requirement on television ads.
According to polling statistics, few consumers are aware of MediaWatch, but 98% can recall seeing a drug ad on television. 87% are said to support the proposed television MediaWatch requirement, and 90% support it for print ads.
RBR/TVBR observation: This is one ad category that is under constant assault. The pharmaceutical companies argue that there is value in making consumers aware of symptoms their products can help cure, symptoms they may otherwise be unaware of. Critics say the ads are strictly like any other ads, designed to drive sales, and in the case of prescription medicines, they should be advertised to doctors doing the prescribing, not to unknowledgeable citizens. The one thing we can expect is that this is another one of those Washington battles that will never truly be over. (Shhhh…the Consumers Union made no mention of any adding any new requirements for radio ads.)