By: Ye Wang

Have you ever wondered why the last time you got a cold, you purchased NyQuil over the Walgreens brand, even though the latter was cheaper and had similar active ingredients? The truth is you may have been a victim of direct-to-consumer advertising. Direct-to-consumer (DTC) advertising means that the drugs are marketed directly to patients, who would be consuming the medication, rather than healthcare professionals. The advertising industry for drugs alone is doing so well that according to a report, the estimated spending on DTC advertising increased from 11.4 billion in 1996 to 29.9 billion in 2005.


Traditionally, there have been unfavorable attitudes towards DTC advertising from healthcare workers, because the money spent on advertising the product could potentially raise drug costs, and undermine medical authority and patient-physician relationships. Besides that, advertisements could omit product information and lead to patients having an untruthful understanding of the product. For example, the advertisement below, encouraging people with heartburn to buy Prilosec, may send a wrong message to some patients.

In the commercial above, the message not being said, but being referenced to here, is that instead of changing the life you lead, you could just lead it that way. “Larry the cable guy” was used here as an appeal of authority. He’s telling you that as an American, you don’t let heartburn get in the way of you and that corndog. Instead of telling you to change your behavior, he’s simply telling you to switch to Prilosec. Though Prilosec is of course a good medicine for heartburn, the selling point of this advertisement just does not cut it to me. It does not talk about how you can reduce heartburn by eating healthy and avoiding certain foods, but provides a solution so simple and easy that it is extremely appealing to people who would not think twice about the long term side effects of taking more drugs and continue eating terribly.


With that being said, the shadow cast over DTC advertising can be kind of depressing. However, the good news is that reports say there is a recent downward trend in DTC advertising, and as time has passed, there has been a shift in perceptions towards the issue. Some healthcare workers agree that DTC advertising, if done properly, has the potential to educate patients and keep them more informed and confident to talk about health with their doctors. That is a positive effect not to be overlooked.


To sum it up, DTC advertising has both negative and positive effects, and sometimes it is up to the
patient/consumer to make more informed and educated decisions and be smart about choosing a
product. There is still uncertainty about the long term effects of these advertisements. In my opinion,
DTC advertising is not necessarily a bad thing; it doesn’t have to be completely removed. However, there should be more oversight and watchdog groups to make sure that the ads are truthful and responsible, so that consumers can make informed decisions about their health. That would be a huge step forward in both the pharmaceutical and advertising industries, as well as extremely beneficial to consumers like us.


1. Denise E. Delorme; Leonard N. Reid; SoonTae An. Advertising in Health Communication:
promoting Pharmaceuticals and Dietary Supplements to American Consumers. The Routledge
Handbook of Health Communication, 2nd. ed. New York: New York , 2011, pps. 268-290.

2. Jisu Huh; Denise E. Delorme; Leonard N. Reid
Skepticism towards DTC advertising: A comparative study of Korean and Caucasian Americans
International Journal of Advertising. 2012; 31(1).

3. Image taken from


Written by Ad Buzz

The American Advertising Federation Illinois Chapter brings to you Ad Buzz, a blog dedicated to all things advertising related, from our favorite campaigns to trends going on in the industry.

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