What do consumers think of DTC advertising of Rx drugs?

June 4, 2001

prevention magazine's dtc advertising survey


What do consumers think of DTC advertising of Rx drugs?

Thirty-two percent of consumers, or an estimated 54.2 million, who have seen a direct-to-consumer (DTC) ad for a prescription drug have talked with their doctors about the advertised medicine, according to Prevention magazine’s International Survey on Wellness and Consumer Reaction to DTC Advertising of Rx Drugs 2001.

The study, conducted by telephone among a national sample of 1,222 consumers, also revealed the following:

• Twenty-six percent of consumers who talk with their doctors about an advertised medicine ask for a prescription for that specific product.

• Of those who ask for a prescription, 71% receive an Rx for the advertised medicine, 10% receive a prescription for a medicine other than the one advertised, and 19% do not get a prescription for any kind of medicine–advertised or otherwise.

• Fifty-three percent of all consumers who talk with their doctors about an advertised medicine said that their doctors discussed nondrug therapies with them.

• The groups least aware of DTC advertising include minorities and low-income consumers; 84% of whites have seen or heard advertisements, compared with smaller majorities of either African-Americans (69%) or Hispanics (57%). Although seven in 10 adults living in households with annual incomes under $25,000 have seen pharmaceutical advertisements, this proportion is significantly larger (87%) among consumers with higher household incomes.

• Awareness is higher among consumers who are currently taking a prescription medicine than it is among those who do not use any.

• Awareness of DTC advertising stands at 82% among consumers who said they are more likely than they were 12 months ago to treat themselves for common illnesses before seeing a doctor. Only 59% of those who opt to see the doctor first are aware of DTC advertising.

• Consumer recall of DTC ads for specific prescription drugs remains unchanged from levels in the 1998 and 1999 Prevention surveys. Respondents were asked whether they had heard or seen ads for 10 specific products. Results indicated that 91% of all adults–as many as 169.3 million consumers–have seen an ad for one of these products.

• Among the most recognized brands in this year’s survey, only Claritin has advertising that is remembered by a majority of consumers (72%). Advertising for the lipid-reduction therapy Lipitor was remembered by 40% of consumers, the weight-loss drug Xenical by 32%, and the osteoarthritis treatment Vioxx by 30%.

• Twenty-three percent of adults remember ads for the hormone replacement therapy Premarin, while 21% remember ads for the osteoarthritis treatment Celebrex.

• For eight of 10 medications included in the survey, fewer than 50% of all affected consumers were aware of ads for drugs that could treat conditions affecting them. For example, among women 50 or older, only 42% had seen ads for Premarin.

• Women are more likely to remember ads for eight of 10 medicines included in the survey. One interesting difference between the 1999 and 2000 surveys is that women appear less likely to have seen individual ads this year compared with last year. For example, a majority of women recalled seeing ads for five of the 13 medicines included in the 1999 survey, but in the 2000 survey, only Claritin registered with more than 50% of women.

• Women are more likely than men to discuss advertised medicines with their doctors (38% versus 26%). And consumers who are already taking Rx products are more likely to have these conversations than are those who are not (42% versus 24%).

• Adults between the ages of 36 and 45 are most likely to ask their doctors for advertised medicines. Of these consumers, 40% ask their doctors to prescribe the medicine they have seen advertised, compared with 24% of adults under the age of 35 and 19% of those 55 or older.

• Although DTC advertising is doing a reasonable job of informing consumers about the benefits and risks of prescription medicines, there is still room for improvement. Of all consumers who have seen a DTC ad (91% said they have heard or seen one), 57% said the ads give them the kind of risk information they need in order to ask their doctors about the risks of the advertised medicine.

• A slightly larger proportion (62%) said the ads also provide the kind of benefits information they need; 25% said the ads did not provide the kind of benefits information they would need.

Sandra Levy


Sandra Levy. What do consumers think of DTC advertising of Rx drugs?.

Drug Topics