The Role of Marketing: Part 2

Public Health Effects of Big Pharma Advertising

The Pill Culture

Drug advertisements have been criticized for perpetuating the prescription drug culture in the United States. In American society, names of drugs like Adderall and Xanax are as commonplace as Advil (Abrams). Coinciding with America’s drug culture is a diagnosis culture where conditions like erectile dysfunction or restless leg syndrome warrant prescription pills. In other countries, these ailments are simply referred to as a side effect of aging (Abrams).

The Advertising Crisis in a Nutshell

A benefit of the direct-to-consumer advertising is that people may become more informed about their treatment options. This may empower them to talk to their health care providers, resulting in better public health throughout the population (DrugWatch).

On the other hand, critics of direct-to-consumer advertising have cited that these advertisements are misleading (DrugWatch). They also encourage self-diagnosis and tend to lack the necessary information that the consumer needs in order to form a knowledgeable decision.

These advertisements not only promote a particular product but also the existence of medical conditions (DrugWatch). The goal of any advertising is to raise public awareness about an item, which leads to an increase in revenue. Pharmaceutical advertisements are no different. The objective is to draw in users and raise profits. This is accomplished through persuading people that they are in need of a certain pill by convincing them that their health is at risk.  In turn, people are more likely to consult their doctor for medications. Typically, in America, when it comes to prescription drugs, if you ask, you shall receive (Drake).

Because of the compensation many physicians receive for endorsing certain medications, doctors are urged to sing the praises of a particular product to their patients. These doctors also tend to recommend the more expensive option to further appease their Big Pharma funders (DrugWatch). In turn, more individuals may have a misdiagnosis and receive a prescription that they do not need.

So, what are the results of Big Pharma’s advertising ploy that infiltrates both the patients’ psyche and the physicians’ ethics? A misinformed and overmedicated society.

Public Health Implications of an Misinformed and Overmedicated Society

The pharmaceutical industry has contributed to the decisions that doctors and their patients make. In 1993 there were seven prescriptions written for every person in the United States, and that number climbed to twelve per person in 2004 (Ventola).

Overdose deaths: There are various kinds of prescription drugs that are highly addictive and can be potentially abused. This includes opiate painkiller, stimulants and central nervous system depressants (Volkow). More people taking prescription pills translates to more addictions and deaths. Since 1999, overdose death involving opioid pain relievers has quadrupled (Volkow). In fact, prescription drug overdoses is the third leading cause of death in the nation (Drake).

Misinforms patients: Big Pharma advertising omits important information. For example, in one study, 82% of ads made some factual claims and rational arguments for use of the advertised drug; however, only 26% of the ads described risk factors or causes of the condition (Ventola). As a result, millions upon millions do not realize that there are certain risks in taking prescription drugs; these can include weakened immune systems and sometimes addiction (Ventola).

Increases costs: Big Pharma advertising promotes expensive “me-too” or “copycat” drugs that might not offer any significant benefits over older and cheaper medications (Ventola).


Work Cited

Abrams, Micheal. “Big Pharma’s Direct to Consumer Advertsing Corrupts America’s Heath Culture.” IVN. 3 May 2012. Web. 10 Dec. 2015.

Drake, Daniela. “Big Pharma is America’s New Mafia.” Organized Crime. The Daily Beast. 2 Feb. 2015. Web. 10 Dec. 2015.

“Pharmaceutical Marketing.” Big Pharma. Drugwatch, 25 Aug. 2015. Web. 10 Dec. 2015.

Volkow, Nora M.D. “From the Director.” National Institutes on Drug Abuse: Prescription Drug Abuse. NIH, Nov. 2014. Web. 10 Dec. 2015.

Ventola, C. Lee. “Direct-to-Consumer Pharmaceutical Advertising: Therapeutic or Toxic?” Pharmacy and Therapeutics 36.10 (2011): 669–684. Print.




The Role of Marketing: Part 1

Big Pharma’s Advertising

Pharmaceutical companies spend billions of dollars every year to advertise their products in the United States. In 2014, Big Pharma reportedly paid a total of $6.49 billion on marketing, considerably larger than research and development. Their target audiences include consumers and physicians.

Consumer Oriented Advertising

Big Pharma engages in direct-to-consumer advertising. In fact, the U.S. and New Zealand are the only countries that allow pharmaceutical companies to directly advertise to customers (DrugWatch). The FDA oversees the ads, which typically come in three forms: product claim, reminder ads and help seeking ads.   When companies do not comply with the advertising standards of the FDA, they are hit with billion dollar fines (DrugWatch).

The advertisements often times include a celebrity, actors or a cartoon of some sort (DrugWatch). Opponents of direct-to-consumer ads critique its misleading nature. Consumers may be tempted to believe that a celebrity endorser actually takes the drug or that the actors are legitimate doctors (DrugWatch).

Click the link to watch an ABILIFY® ad

Physician Oriented Advertising  

Big Pharma invests in marketing directly to health care providers to encourage them to prescribe their drugs. They even target residents still attending medical school (DrugWatch). Marketing activities directed at physicians include sale pitches, promotional activities, meals and gifts (DrugWatch). The industry also administers free medication samples to physicians, which has been shown to increase prescriptions of the endorsed medication (Pew Results).

Big Pharma also invades medical conventions by sending doctors unwarranted promotional items, concert tickets or invitations to free dinners (DrugWatch). Physicians can also get paid for speaking and writing on behalf of the benefits of a certain drug. Furthermore, Big Pharma tends to direct resources to doctors with a known history of extensive prescribing (DrugWatch).  According to Open Payments data, approximately 607,000 physicians in the country have a payment record affiliated with Big Pharma.

Why Pharmaceuticals Companies Must Advertise

The direct-to-consumer advertising tactic has proven to be extremely profitable; for every dollar spent by Big Pharma, they averaged about $4.20 in return (Abrams). Physicians are also more likely to prescribe a specific brand of a drug when they have a fiscal history with its company (DrugWatch). Finally, it is imperative for companies to establish relationships with health professionals because there is little product differentiation within the market.

Work Cited

Abrams, Micheal. “Big Pharma’s Direct to Consumer Advertsing Corrupts America’s Heath Culture.” IVN. 3 May 2012. Web. 10 Dec. 2015.

“Basics of Drug Ads.” Prescription Drug Advertising. FDA, 19 Jun. 2015. Web. 10 Dec. 2015.

“Persuading the Prescribers: Pharmaceutical Industry Marketing and its Influence on Physicians and Patients.” Prescription Project. Pew Results, 11 Nov. 2013. Web. 10 Dec. 2015.

“Pharmaceutical Marketing.” Big Pharma. Drugwatch, 25 Aug. 2015. Web. 10 Dec. 2015.

“Basics of Drug Ads.” Prescription Drug Advertising. FDA, 19 Jun. 2015. Web. 10 Dec. 2015.


Andy. “ABILIFY (aripiprazole) Anti-Depressant Add-on Treatment- BMS.flv.”Online video clip.  Youtube . Youtube, 27 Feb. 2011. Web. 14 Dec. 2015.

“Basics of Drug Ads.” Prescription Drug Advertising. FDA: U.S. Food and Drug Administration, 19 Jun. 2015. Web. 13 Dec. 2015.

“The FACTS About Open Payments Data.” 2014 Totals. Open Payment Data. Web. 13 Dec.2015.