Regarding Drug Ads as a Positive Side Effect

People love to bad-mouth Big Pharma. People also love to bad-mouth advertising. So, you’d think they’d really, really love to badmouth prescription-drug advertising. One surprise in a USA Today/Kaiser Family Foundation/Harvard School of Public Health survey is that people’s attitudes toward such advertising are in some ways more positive than negative.

Asked to render an overall judgment on prescription-drug advertising, respondents were more likely to say it’s “mostly a good thing” (53 percent) than “mostly a bad thing” (40 percent). The ads’ informational function has much to do with this. Sixty-seven percent agreed that the ads “educate people about treatments and encourage them to get help for conditions they might not have been aware of.” In fact, 32 percent said they’ve spoken to their own doctor about a specific drug after seeing it advertised.

Consumers are receptive to the idea that prescription drugs, expensive though they are, can help keep down healthcare costs: 59 percent agreed that the medicines “reduce the need for expensive medical procedures and hospitalization”; 56 percent agreed that they “reduce healthcare costs by preventing illnesses.”

People’s anger at what they regard as excessive profits by drug companies may temper their ire (comparatively speaking) about the money spent on advertising. Asked to cite the major factors behind high prices for prescription drugs, 79 percent pointed to company profits, vs. 62 percent mentioning the cost of marketing.

On a more purely negative note, 66 percent said the ads “encourage people to take drugs they don’t need.” The proliferation of advertising for erectile-dysfunction remedies plainly lies behind the fact that 46 percent think “many ads are too sexually explicit.” (That tends not to be a big problem with ads for hay-fever remedies.) And fewer than half said the ads are “excellent” (9 percent) or “good” (36 percent) at telling people about drugs’ potential side effects.