Forgot your password?
typodupeerror
Advertising Communications Government Media Medicine Social Networks United States Your Rights Online News

Pharma Marketing Faces a Character-Count Conundrum 176

Posted by timothy
from the another-dose-of-nanny-state-should-do-it dept.
this_boat_is_real writes "There's growing concern over how pharmaceutical companies use social media and the Internet to market their products. Last November, the US Food and Drug Administration held a hearing on the topic, and many were worried over how marketing mediums such as Twitter — which has a 140-character limit on text — can sufficiently disclose drug risks." Here's the FDA's announcement about last year's hearings, which includes links to an archive of presentations as well as a video record of the meeting.
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

Pharma Marketing Faces a Character-Count Conundrum

Comments Filter:
  • A simple solution (Score:3, Insightful)

    by bogaboga (793279) on Saturday March 13, 2010 @10:53PM (#31469212)

    What the drug companies should do is to add a disclaimer such as: -

    "Though these drugs may work as advertised, their use is not intended for use by residents of the USA. Such residents who wish to employ these drugs should ensure that their employment does not go against laws in their jurisdictions."

    • by AuMatar (183847) on Saturday March 13, 2010 @10:54PM (#31469218)

      A simpler solution- don't use twitter. Why the fuck are you looking for medical advise on twitter?

      • by cosm (1072588)
        A simpler simpler solution [wikipedia.org]
      • Why the fuck are you looking for medical advise on twitter?

        Restless Thumb Syndrome?
      • by izomiac (815208) on Saturday March 13, 2010 @11:25PM (#31469420) Homepage
        You shouldn't get medical advice from a drunk dude in a bar, but people do it. My guess is that this group seeking medical advice on Twitter overlaps very nicely with the group of people most susceptible to medical advertising.

        Obligatory XKCD [xkcd.com].
      • Re:A simple solution (Score:5, Interesting)

        by Ethanol-fueled (1125189) * on Saturday March 13, 2010 @11:36PM (#31469476) Homepage Journal
        Good idea. But that still leaves Caucasian Womens' magazines [nih.gov] and TV. Have you picked up an issue of Home and Garden lately? That mag and those like it are chock full of two-page spreads of women frolicing in fields aside pink-and-blue [humansbyumans.com] of bipolar graphic design.

        Meanwhile, erectile dysfunciton medicine ads are featuring younger and younger men. Then there's the awkwardness of having to explain them to your kids who see them on TV.
        • by FiloEleven (602040) on Saturday March 13, 2010 @11:42PM (#31469506)

          Hah! I love the closing line in the image you linked: "Treatment patients can live with!"

          Setting the bar kinda low now, aren't we?

        • by IWannaBeAnAC (653701) on Sunday March 14, 2010 @03:48AM (#31470558)

          Wow, as an Australian, I find this pharma marketing so bizarre. Except for over-the-counter stuff like pain killers, there is no advertising of medical products in Australia (same for NZ, UK, probably most of the rest of the western world in fact).

          How can a non-expert have any idea what the best treatment is for a disease like schizophrenia? Indeed, for anything more serious than a head cold? I can imagine someone doing some serious research and making a suggestion to their doctor (who will hopefully either say 'good idea', or 'not a good idea, because....'), but basing a complex drug treatment choice on a magazine or TV ad? WTF?

          Besides, big pharma spends more money on marketing than they do on research. Since probably 99% of that marketing budget is spent in the USA alone, it is incredibly wasteful.

          • Re:A simple solution (Score:5, Interesting)

            by Plunky (929104) on Sunday March 14, 2010 @05:32AM (#31470900)

            Wow, as an Australian, I find this pharma marketing so bizarre. Except for over-the-counter stuff like pain killers, there is no advertising of medical products in Australia (same for NZ, UK, probably most of the rest of the western world in fact).

            There is, they just have to target the doctors directly (who don't have time, knowledge or inclination to investigate the claims directly, and are more likely to be swayed by the fancy literature and free lunch accompanying the salesperson)

            • by IWannaBeAnAC (653701) on Sunday March 14, 2010 @05:49AM (#31470986)

              Yes, that is true, and such advertising can be quite insidious. But it is at least targetted at the right audience, ie people best equipped to make a well-informed decision. The insidious part comes when the marketing becomes more than just a sales pitch, and turns into free gifts (bribes) or worse.

              I disagree with your claim that doctors don't have time, knowledge or inclination to investigate the claims directly, and are more likely to be swayed by the fancy literature and free lunch accompanying the salesperson. All doctors at least know how to read a technical report, and know where to go to get further information (eg, journal literature). Maybe some doctors don't have time to do this, or take the easy option and rely on the sales pitch, but at least they do have the necessary technical background.

              • by Antique Geekmeister (740220) on Sunday March 14, 2010 @09:12AM (#31471662)

                Nonsense. A doctor given 15 minutes to gather a new patient's history and a recent 8 hour forced presentation on lowering drug costs is often squeezed for time to review the dozen potential treatments and review them for factors that conflict with its use for a specific patient. I've reminded of the colleague with a bad shoulder: while he and I were discussing his keyboard layout to ease his discomfort, we discussed his new pain medication (Naproxen). I looked it up, because of some recent shoulder issues I'd had (lifting a server off of someone's foot). I noticed its kidney risks and pointed them out to this diabetic colleague, who takes blood pressure medication. While his shoulder doctor had known its usefulness, he'd missed out on the issues for diabetics and their kidneys, because he was apparently rushed by HMO policies and the short times actually allocated to talk to patients. My colleague's kidney specialist flipped out when he was asked about the drug.

                The shoulder doctor was highly recommended, a skilled sports medicine specialist. But he was hurried by his HMO, whose policies really reduce the amount of time doctors can spend with patients and foist the medical history gathering and basic physical testing off onto nurses and physician's assistants, so all the doctor sees is a sheet or two filled with diagnosis. It's gotten very hard for a doctor to do any research for their patients.

            • by nanoakron (234907)

              Not true. Here in the UK, direct inducements for doctors are limited by law to £5 per doctor. I'm a doctor in the NHS myself.

              That usually means that they buy us a load of supermarket sandwiches and talk to us for 10 minutes about a drug we already know about and use.

              Does that change our prescribing practises? No...because we can only prescribe drugs approved by the hospital trust's drug panel, populated by expert pharmacists.

              In the end, it's just a charade - there is effectively no direct marketing of

              • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

                by Plunky (929104)

                Not true. Here in the UK, direct inducements for doctors are limited by law to £5 per doctor. I'm a doctor in the NHS myself.

                Thats interesting, do companies try to get around that, legitimately or not? And, what kind of doctor are you? I was kind of thinking about GPs when I wrote the comment you replied to..

                Does that change our prescribing practises? No...because we can only prescribe drugs approved by the hospital trust's drug panel, populated by expert pharmacists.

                Hm, but if two drugs from differen

            • It's not just a simple lunch they are being plied with. They are given expensive holidays overseas, to attend an important conference of course, and many other big ticket items to convince them to push one manufacturers drugs over another.

      • by wiredlogic (135348) on Sunday March 14, 2010 @12:22AM (#31469712)

        Even better would be to go back to the good ol' days and prohibit marketing prescription drugs to anyone without a license to prescribe drugs. Crazy, I know.

        • by dgatwood (11270) on Sunday March 14, 2010 @12:38AM (#31469796) Journal

          I tend to agree. We should not allow advertisements for prescription drugs in ANY venue intended for the general public. The pharmaceutical industry has done irreparable harm to the health care industry through advertising. It's one thing to have people going out on their own and doing independent research to find out alternative treatments that might help them. It's quite another when sizable percentages of the population whose sole source of information about a product is what they learned in a 30 second TV ad decide to follow the ad's advice to "ask your doctor if [insert drug here] is right for you". If everyone did that, doctors would never get anything done....

          More often than not, it's a waste of doctors' time having to explain to patients why a particular highly advertised medicine is not the best choice. Half the time, the reason is that the medicine the person is on is working, so changing medications would just be adding risk with little benefit. As such, this sort of direct-to-patient advertising is harmful to both the quality of patient care and the proper functioning of our health insurance system.

          Don't just ban it on Twitter. Ban it on TV, on the radio, in newspapers, magazines, and related Google search result sidebars, too. While you're at it, please crack down on the "herbal viagra" spam. :-)

          • Re: (Score:2, Troll)

            by zappepcs (820751)

            It's better than that. Money for those ads has to come from somewhere and spending it on advertising rather than spending it on lowering the cost of R&D and lowering the cost of the drugs themselves is nothing short of greed beyond any hope of redemption. An ad for any medication whose side effects can be worse than the symptom they treat should not be allowed period. Making such a rule would simply change what side effects are reported though. The intent of Truth in advertising laws should be held to s

          • Re:A simple solution (Score:5, Interesting)

            by azrider (918631) on Sunday March 14, 2010 @02:34AM (#31470308)

            "ask your doctor if [insert drug here] is right for you".

            Even better are the ones that say "Tell your doctor if you have [insert disease here]". Last I knew, since my doctor is supposedly monitoring my health, my doctor should be telling me.
            Otherwise, this is a blatant invitation for doctor shopping. If your doctor will not prescribe the medicine du jour, find one that will.

        • by Cimexus (1355033)

          I did not know America used to be like that. Wow...

          As a non-American who had never been exposed to direct marketing of prescription drugs (illegal here in Australia, as it is pretty much everywhere), I always just assumed you guys ~always~ had direct marketing of pharmaceuticals to the public. But apparently not? Which leads me to wonder whether you shouldn't get rid of it again, because it really isn't a good idea for many reasons elaborated upon in this thread.

          And usually any Slashdot thread that has a th

      • by hazem (472289)

        Learning that it won't be able to have ads for Viagra and Monostat, Twitter just got a lot more interesting to me.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday March 13, 2010 @11:02PM (#31469276)

      An even easier solution - don't advertise prescription drugs to patients.

      (The over-the-counter drugs are generally low-risk, and in any case the warnings are right on the packaging when you buy them.)

      • by jedidiah (1196) on Sunday March 14, 2010 @01:03AM (#31469908) Homepage

        If you can't SELL directly to the consumer then you should not be allowed to market to the consumer. These are substances that are considered so bad that untrustworthy civilians can't be trusted to buy them without a doctors referral. That line of reasoning should apply to the ads. People that can't be trusted to buy their own drugs should not be conned into demanding them from their doctor.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by bjwest (14070)

        I totally agree. Pharmaceutical companies should not be allowed to advertise prescription drugs and OTC medications should be limited to after family hours. My thoughts on why there's so much prescription drug abuse by the young is that they are bombarded by advertisements on TV.

        Have a pain, take this drug.. Life got you down? Here try this one. No wonder kids think drugs are the answer to everything. That's what they've been told by Pharma... Take a drug (prescription, of course, illegal drugs are b

        • My thoughts on why there's so much prescription drug abuse by the young is that they are bombarded by advertisements on TV.

          If your kids are watching TV (let alone the advertisements), then you are part of the problem.

    • by SEWilco (27983)
      "#NonUSA Buy ExcelSuperGreenDrug! #USA Sorry, you die."
  • by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Saturday March 13, 2010 @10:55PM (#31469226) Journal
    All the cool kids today are using URL shorteners. They make it impossible to see where a link is going, make the link's function depend on two 3rd parties rather than just one, and probably provide lots of sneaky analytics data; but they allow you to embed URLs in your tweets, so clearly it's worth it.

    Anyway, the fine nation of Uganda has the .ug TLD. All we have to do is obtain dr.ug and set up a URL shortening service specifically for linking to giant lists of scary sounding side effects from pharma shill tweets. What could be more logical?(Besides, y'know, not fucking direct marketing Prescription Drugs...)
    • by lawpoop (604919) on Saturday March 13, 2010 @11:56PM (#31469578) Homepage Journal

      Anyway, the fine nation of Uganda has the .ug TLD. All we have to do is obtain dr.ug and set up a URL shortening service... What could be more logical?

      Dr. Uganda?

  • by Vinegar Joe (998110) on Saturday March 13, 2010 @10:56PM (#31469232)

    My dealer uses twiiter.

  • As if character count is the real worry with how Big Pharma markets their wares? Talk about misdirection and misframing....

  • by davidwr (791652) on Saturday March 13, 2010 @11:07PM (#31469314) Homepage Journal

    "Buy __MIRACLEDRUG__ to cure __DREADDISEASE___. See your doctor before using. May be fatal."

    There, as long as __MIRACLEDRUG__ and __DREADDISEASE__ aren't too long I think we've met the 140-character limit and mentioned the worst possible side-effect. Can we archive this discussion now?

  • I think I'll send a letter to my congresswoman asking for a bill requiring all text ads be at least 141 characters in length.

  • 1234567890 1234567890 1234567890 1234567890 1234567890 1234567890 1234567890
    Tard. dysk.; fever; shaking/sweating/confus./incr. pulse/bloodpress (NMS)

    1234567890 1234567890 1234567890 1234567890 1234567890 1234567890 1234567890
    occas. fatal; [mini]strokes 4 psychotic old ppl.; suic. risk; coma; death

    Yay!
  • Quit allowing the advertisement of prescription drugs. The reason that prescription drugs are, well, by prescription, is that they may carry significant risks, and careful evaluation by a professional is required as to whether a patient should take them.

    If a patient needs a prescription, let their doctor be the one who gives them their options, based on a full discussion of the risks and benefits of each possible one, and let the patient be the one to decide based on this information. And while we're at it, let's disallow the pharma companies from ever knowing how often a given doctor prescribes their stuff, so that they can't give any type of reward or kickback (they would still, of course, know how often they're prescribed in aggregate).

    Medical decisions should be made based upon a detailed discussion with a professional, not a glossy brochure.

    • by IICV (652597)

      But we can't let a bureaucrat get between patients and their health care needs! Not even if that bureaucrat is a doctor!

    • by barzok (26681) on Saturday March 13, 2010 @11:42PM (#31469508)

      Quit allowing the advertisement of prescription drugs. The reason that prescription drugs are, well, by prescription, is that they may carry significant risks, and careful evaluation by a professional is required as to whether a patient should take them.

      There are only 2 countries which allow "direct to consumer" advertising of prescription drugs - the US and New Zealand, and I'm not 100% about NZ (been a while since I looked). That should tell you something right there.

      Medical decisions should be made based upon a detailed discussion with a professional, not a glossy brochure.

      Sometimes I wonder if the glossy brochure and a few free pens & notepads is all the professional is working off as well.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by tepples (727027)
      There are four kinds of drug ads:
      • ads for an over-the-counter drug such as Advil (ibuprofen),
      • "help seeking ads" that mention a disease and no drug ("if you have symptoms A, B, and C it could be disease XYZ; visit LearnAboutXYZ.com"),
      • "reminder ads" that mention a prescription drug and no disease ("ask your doctor whether PLACEBO is right for you"), and
      • ads that mention both a prescription drug and a disease, which also have to mention the side effects.

      If you ban all drug ads, then how do you educate the pub

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by jx100 (453615)

        By telling all the doctors that some drug exists, who will then tell the people when they go to see them about the new giant growth in their neck.

        • by tepples (727027)

          how do you educate the public that a particular syndrome is treatable?

          By telling all the doctors that some drug exists, who will then tell the people when they go to see them about the new giant growth in their neck.

          Unless the people all think that, for example, "the new giant growth in their neck" is a normal part of aging. For example, a patient might be afraid to go see a doctor about sexual dysfunctions for fear of wasting the doctor's time and the patient's money for a visit.

          • by timmarhy (659436)
            you do not need to market medications to talk about illness. you can simply say "see your doctor for available treatments".

            end of story.

          • You can quite easily run an ad saying "Do you have a giant neck growth? Help may be available for you, consult your doctor!" without advocating a specific treatment.

          • by Alex Belits (437) *

            Sick people in US (and only in US) are afraid to see doctors because they expect treatment to be unaffordable, ineffective or both. As a result, pharmaceutical companies believe, they NEED ads hawking their drugs, so after seeing the ad few thousand times a person will finally drag his ass to a hospital and annoy a doctor into prescribing something. Then hopefully that person won't throw a prescription into trash after learning how much it will cost.

            This is what happens when pharmaceutical price gouging and

      • by WiiVault (1039946) on Sunday March 14, 2010 @12:36AM (#31469784)
        Sounds to me like with the exception of the (possibly) the last bullet point those kind of ads should be banned. They play into people's fears and constant need to "enhance" themselves. These companies are just hoping to make us all hypochondriacs and it seems to be working sadly. The ins and outs of various diseases and medicines should be left to the expert, the doctor, not some half-brained twit who rots their brain watching hours and hours of pharma ads.
      • by Velex (120469)

        If you ban all drug ads, then how do you educate the public that a particular syndrome is treatable?

        Don't they tell these things to their doctor?

        • Seeing a doctor isn't free. The help seeking ad tells the public that a particular set of complaints is something that would be worth a patient's time and money to tell about to a doctor.
          • by Cimexus (1355033)

            Which explains a lot about why the ads are necessary in the US I suppose. Because seeing a doctor ~is~ free in most other developed countries. (Well ok, to be pedantic, a slice of your tax money pays for it ... but you have to pay that anyway, sooo).

    • by Cimexus (1355033)

      Interesting ... didn't know NZ allowed it too.

      My home is Australia but I've spent a decent amount of time in both the US (several years) and NZ (4 or 5 months). I don't remember seeing a single prescription drug ad in NZ, but in the US geez, there's one every ad break. I think there must be some serious limitations on the NZ version of the law allowing it ... either that or a cultural difference that just doesn't make it as worthwhile for the pharma companies.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday March 14, 2010 @12:16AM (#31469680)

    Viagra: Get yur d!ck up! F-ck lik a horse! SFX: Eye sh!t, belly sh!t, soft sh!t, piss sh!t, heart sh!t, brain sh!t, crash yur plane sh!t.

    #Pfizer

    See?

    There's more info in 144 characters than you'll get from the tv commercials.

  • not a problem (Score:4, Insightful)

    by obarthelemy (160321) on Sunday March 14, 2010 @12:26AM (#31469730)

    wanna bet the law gets changed ?

    • by Gerafix (1028986)
      Want you meant to say is the Pharma Corps will liberate the US Discrimination System from their horribly draconian anti free market socialist communist biases. Of course all to better serve the American Citizen with The Best Health Care In The World.
  • You need a prescription, right? So that means you've seen a doctor and a pharmacist if you're taking it, and it was the responsibility of one or both of them to explain all of the risks to you. Too damn bad if you're taking prescription meds without a prescription, you deserve what you get.

    The disclaimer is effectively inherent in any legally prescribed medication.

  • by Al Dimond (792444) on Sunday March 14, 2010 @01:38AM (#31470064) Journal

    The disclosure laws are there for a reason. If you can't satisfy their requirements in a tweet then you can't advertise pharmaceuticals on Twitter. If you can't satisfy them in a Google ad then you can't advertise pharmaceuticals in a Google ad.

    This isn't affecting any one company over another or anything like that. It's just following the laws to their conclusion -- and, really, going right along with their intention. Putting a drug in your body is of much greater consequence than what company you buy your mass-produced junk from, and these laws make sure drug companies can't just do snappy, feel-good 10-second spots with no substance whatsoever like beer companies and cola companies.

    A big part of advertising is repeating a brand name over and over. There's an impression made by hearing a brand name in association with positive images or text, even if you aren't very involved with the ad. The disclosure laws try to prevent companies from just spamming you with impressions and making sure there is substantial information right up front. If it's behind a link, as many of these companies propose, that's all lost. The casual eye skips over, gets the positive impression and none of the disclosure.

    So... within our current framework if there's no room to disclose right up front there should be no ad at all. Maybe the disclosure laws suck, maybe the fact that drugs are advertised at all sucks... those are separate points. As the law stands now, no Twitter ads for Viagra. Yay!

  • by trawg (308495) on Sunday March 14, 2010 @01:58AM (#31470152) Homepage

    ... I am regularly amazed by the sheer number of pharma ads on television. Depending on the time of day I can see anywhere between 50 to 100% of the ads on TV being about pharma products.

    I'd worry about getting those ones down before I worried about the Internet ones.

  • by erroneus (253617) on Sunday March 14, 2010 @04:47AM (#31470716) Homepage

    It's not the count of the characters, but the content of their character that is the problem with big pharma.

    • by mcrbids (148650)

      Drug companies aren't perfect. Neither is any other kind of company or organization, including government, because they are all run by people.

      But drug companies play a VITAL role in the longest-ever life expectancy you hope to enjoy! Sorry, but when I'm feeling down, it's the drug companies products in conjunction with knowledgeable doctors who will keep my sorry, hairy white ass alive. I can pray all I want, and that might help about as much as any other placebo, but it's the doctors and the drug companies

      • by erroneus (253617)

        There is always a chance for people to do the right thing. Instead, the people habitually do the wrong thing. Worse, the big corporations managed to get it entered into U.S. law that they behave this way. (I speak of the law that requires corporate officers act in the best interests of the share holders... and what is in the best interests of the share holders? That's determined by more people...) This law allows them to do whatever they interpret as best without a conscience because they don't have to

  • ...until they both get their act together and allow for messages >160 characters. This is absolutely the most ridiculous restriction in the 21st century I have ever seen. 1120 bits per message? Seriously? It's like we're living in the 80s with 300 baud modems on our mobiles or something...so ridiculous! And the cost is even more outrageous. In the U.S. most companies charge 20 cents per message... That's $1497 per MiB! WTF is wrong with this picture?

    Google Buzz has vastly improved upon the Twitte

  • marketing keeps corporations alive, no matter what the are in business of doing.

  • Anyone who buys drugs, or more importantly, has selected a physician who can be convinced to prescribe said drugs, on the basis of what the drug company put up on a social networking site deserve's to be removed from the gene pool.

"I got everybody to pay up front...then I blew up their planet." "Now why didn't I think of that?" -- Post Bros. Comics

Working...