Takeda’s US marketing arm became the latest drug company to use a controversial style of televised branded ad that eschews risk information. The ad style—known as a reminder ad—appears to be gaining broader use by industry despite taking its share of criticism, the latest by a group of academics in a study published in the Annals of Family Medicine.
The 15-second Takeda ad, for insomnia drug Rozerem, includes Abe Lincoln and a beaver and mentions the product without stating its indication or side effects, which can include drowsiness, dizziness and fatigue. Consumers are directed to a Web site where they can learn about risks.
“We don’t believe that they are reminder ads,” said Matt Kuhn, spokesman for Takeda Pharmaceuticals North America. “Rather, they are bookends to the full ad which…opens the commercial break.”
Kuhn explained that the short “trailer ads” follow a longer 60-second spot within the same ad pod, or ad segment, but not necessarily back-to-back. “These trailer ads will always be a second ad within that pod. We view it as an extension of the full ad, and it will never run independent.”
Independent or not, the ads are drawing fire. A group of academics who examined television drug ads, what they claim about conditions and how they appeal to consumers said DTC ads should contain more fact-based claims. In their sample of 103 ads, the authors included "product-claim" ads, which include drug name and indication, as well as reminder ads. The sample comprised ads for brands such as Ambien, Cialis, Crestor, Levitra, Lipitor, Nexium, Plavix and Zelnorm.
“The FDA limits the educational value of reminder ads,” the authors wrote, “by prohibiting them from using rational appeals.”
All of the reminder ads studied used positive emotional appeals, often by depicting a happy character after taking a product. Yet such appeals may prompt viewers to discount information about risks and benefit while swaying them in favor of a product, noted authors from the University of California, Los Angeles; the University of Pennsylvania; and the University of Texas.
Researchers coded ads by types of factual claims. Overall, they concluded that DTC TV ads are often ambiguous about who might need the product.
They grouped ads into thematic categories according to how they portray the drug and the role of healthy lifestyle in the lives of the ads’ characters.
“DTC [advertising] often presents best-case scenarios that can distort and inflate consumers’ expectations about what prescription drugs can accomplish,” wrote authors. What’s more, they wrote, while 19% mention that healthy behavior can be useful, ads don’t play up the value of behavior as a reasonable alternative to medication.
In an editorial accompanying the study, ex-FDA commissioner David Kessler, MD, took issue with DTC ads, saying they “do not contain the right balance of information to provide any meaningful health education.”
Some disagree with the authors’ conclusions. “Unfortunately, the authors of the research appear to have designed it to confuse rather than enlighten,” said John Kamp, executive director, Coalition for Healthcare Communication, in a statement. “The significant body of studies on the effects of advertising on consumer beliefs and behaviors, including the FDA’s own studies, demonstrate that exposure to advertising leads to more and better doctor-patient conversations.”
The authors admit that TV viewers could interpret ads differently and watch them under different conditions. They call for future work examining how ads are viewed in the home. At press time, neither Kessler nor the lead study author were available for comment.
Rozerem was not included in the study sample. As for the reminder ads, Takeda started running them about two weeks ago as part of a DTC campaign that has been on air since last July. Its latest ad was first reported on pharmamarketingblog.com.
Among its voluntary guidelines on DTC ads for members, the trade group PhRMA calls for a ban on reminder ads. Takeda says it adheres to those guidelines but doesn’t see its use of the so-called trailer ads as a contradiction. PhRMA said Takeda is a member of the trade group but not a signatory to the code.
“If you think about the whole approach to how the brand has been marketed, we think it has been unique,” Kuhn said. “And we think this a continuation of that, a somewhat unique approach.”