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W-32: Analysis of Prescription Drug Direct-to-Consumer (DTC) Television Commercials Released Between 2000-2017

Poster Presenter

      Kristina Babayan

      • Regulatory Affairs Promotional Review Fellow
      • Novo Nordisk
        United States


The objective of this study is to analyze a sample of prescription Direct-to-Consumer (DTC) television commercials released between 2000 and 2017 to observe how the presentation of benefits, safety, and marketing strategy have evolved over the years.


We utilized top DTC spend data to create a sample medication list. YouTube, iSpot.tv, and adland.tv were accessed to find 3 commercials per year from 2000-2017. We viewed and evaluated 54 commercials for various aspects, including time spent on safety vs benefits, use of SUPERs vs audio, and theme.


There was a general trend of increase in proportion of time spent on verbalizing safety information versus benefits. The commercials viewed (n=54) were 60-90 seconds in length and aired between 2000 and 2017. After the percentage of time each commercial spent on verbal safety versus verbal benefit was determined, the sample time period was divided into thirds; the resulting range of the average proportion of time these commercials spent on safety was 22%-36% for 2000-2005, 33%-44% for 2006-2011, and 41%-58% for 2012-2017. The safety SUPERs were analyzed in terms of whether they were presented during the safety or benefit voiceovers and whether or not they matched or complemented the voiceover. There was at least one safety SUPER presented during the safety voiceover in 33% (6/18), 44% (8/18), and 83% (15/18) of the commercials viewed in the sample time periods of 2000-2005, 2006-2011, and 2012-2017, respectively. In 2000-2005, the maximum number of SUPERs seen in a commercial from the sample size analyzed was 2 while in 2006-2011 and 2012-2017 it increased to 6. The majority of SUPERs for all commercials were presented in a way that either complimented or matched what was said in the coinciding voiceover. In terms of presentation of safety SUPERs during benefit voiceovers, there was no evident trend from one sample time period to another; however, it was noted that overall less safety SUPERs were used during the benefits voiceover than during the safety voiceover portion of commercials. The marketing strategy was observed in all 54 commercials. In 72% (39/54) of the sample analyzed, the commercials initially presented the patient’s medical condition as a problem followed by the introduction of the medication as the potential solution. The portrayal of a healthcare professional was seen in 24% (13/54) of the commercials. Cost savings was mentioned in 30% (16/54) of the commercials, with 81% (13/16) of these commercials being ones that aired in 2010 or after.


The 54 commercials analyzed incorporated prescription brands that had top DTC spend and varied across multiple manufacturers and disease states, therefore providing a wide representation of DTC television commercials. Based on the preliminary data and the sample size analyzed in this study, it was interesting to see that the mentioning of cost savings opportunities was much more common after 2010. Also, there was a noticeable increase in the amount of verbal safety information presented in recent prescription drug commercials when compared to previous years, especially the early 2000’s. Additionally, we observed an increase over the years in the use of safety SUPERs during the safety voiceover portion of DTC commercials. These results were hypothesized prior to the initiation of our study due to the interpretation of guidances set forth by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). However, recent FDA research on the controversial topic of conveying safety information in prescription drug DTC broadcast advertisements showed that it may be more effective to present less overall safety information and focus on just the most important risks. Our study helps support that the FDA’s investigation into the topic is critical. The increase in safety disclosures may overwhelm patients and decrease their overall comprehension of the commercial. Even though the FDA has not officially changed their viewpoint, it is important to see how this issue evolves.