While troubling, DTC ads represent only 14 percent of pharmaceutical companies' marketing budgets. By the time a 30-second drug commercial airs, the company has conducted months of segmentation studies, held dozens of meetings to define the "communication target" (typically a woman, usually a mother, and of a certain income), and spent millions of dollars to develop the drug's brand and its market. This strategic marketing, which represents the remaining 86 percent of drug promotion expenses, should receive at least as much attention from regulators and lawmakers as DTC ads.
Targeting doctorsWhile DTC ads seek to change patients' behavior, pharmaceutical companies are more interested in changing doctors' behavior. Drug marketers work hard to persuade doctors to prescribe their branded drug over generics and other competitors, and to change other medical practices that limit company profits. | PR Watch
Thus the United States became one of only two countries in the world (New Zealand being the other) where prescription drugs are hawked in prime time. Proponents of the FDA's policy shift say it creates a more informed patient because viewers see the ads, then have an intelligent give-and-take with a doctor. Critics say the shift creates more business for pharmaceutical companies by encouraging patients to seek out expensive, potentially dangerous drugs that they -- and too often their doctors -- know little about. "It was a sellout," says Larry D. Sasich, a pharmacist with Public Citizen's Health Research Group in Washington, D.C. "It's nothing more than a response to pressure from Madison Avenue."
Whatever the motivation, the shift has resulted in a quiet but dramatic transformation of the whole of our health care system. Gone is the time when doctors held complete power and prescription medicines were treated as a sacred and separate world. These ads mark the full dawning of an age when our very health is sold to us like soap. So turn on your TV set, relax, and take a pill. It's Prilosec time.