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Pharma Marketing Faces a Character-Count Conundrum 176

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.
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Pharma Marketing Faces a Character-Count Conundrum

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  • 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 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 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 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?

  • by KiahZero ( 610862 ) on Saturday March 13, 2010 @11:12PM (#31469352)

    Perhaps because it was designed with SMS limitations in mind?

  • by bhtooefr ( 649901 ) <[gro.rfeoothb] [ta] [rfeoothb]> on Saturday March 13, 2010 @11:18PM (#31469390) Homepage Journal

    The thing is, in a 30 second commercial, you can use a sped-up announcer or 2 point fonts that are completely unreadable, but TECHNICALLY meet the requirements.

    In a 140 character twitter message, you can do a bit of unintelligible abbreviation, but even then, 140 characters isn't enough to include the disclaimer ITSELF.

  • 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 RealGrouchy ( 943109 ) on Saturday March 13, 2010 @11:35PM (#31469470)

    Why the fuck are you looking for medical advise on twitter?

    Marketing/adverts != medical advice.

    Generally one doesn't look for advertisements.

    - RG>

  • 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?

  • 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 public that a particular syndrome is treatable?

  • by timmarhy ( 659436 ) on Sunday March 14, 2010 @12:04AM (#31469622)
    that's a very good point. before i visited the states i'd never seen an ad on tv for prescription drugs. i can't see how it helps anyone other then the drug company, and their well being doesn't trump the publics.
  • 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.

  • not a problem (Score:4, Insightful)

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

    wanna bet the law gets changed ?

  • 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 dgatwood ( 11270 ) on Sunday March 14, 2010 @12:38AM (#31469796) Homepage 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. :-)

  • 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.

  • 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 AuMatar ( 183847 ) on Sunday March 14, 2010 @01:44AM (#31470102)

    Already happens, see alcohol and tobacco advertising restrictions. Previous SCOTUS rulings oked them. The current SCOTUS may not, but we may get lucky and have Scalia or Thomas die.

  • by Panoptes ( 1041206 ) on Sunday March 14, 2010 @01:47AM (#31470118)
    After reading this (and other comments in a similar vein) I can see more clearly what is wrong with commercialised healthcare and the pharmaceutical industry in the USA. For all us non-Americans out in the real world, the title of that patriotic song "God Save America" might be changed to "God Save Us From America".
  • by Ethanol-fueled ( 1125189 ) * on Sunday March 14, 2010 @01:54AM (#31470138) Homepage Journal
    Ideally, that would be the case. But I know from personal experience that the doctors never check. They make an educated guess on the spot based on a quick glance through the questionnaire and a few questions. Then, if that drug dosen't work, they try another one. Then cocktails of 'em.

    More patient throughput and the patients' problems disappear because they're left with nothing but hindbrains, drooling stupors, and tardive dyskenesia.
  • 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 bjwest ( 14070 ) on Sunday March 14, 2010 @03:48AM (#31470556)

    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 bad m-kay) to make your life "normal".

    Lawyers shouldn't advertise either, but that's getting into another topic.

  • 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.

  • Free speech is never absolute, and certainly never in a commercial setting. For example, your doctor cannot go post your medical records on a public website. That's free speech, but HIPAA bans it, and I think you'd find arguing that a doctor should be exempt from HIPAA on free speech grounds not to meet the reception you'd expect in court.

    In advertising specifically, tobacco and alcohol ads are already restricted. Indeed, a mandate of disclosures (and a requirement that advertising be true) are all allowable restrictions.

    And I say this as someone who will ardently defend the freedom of speech, even down to things one finds disgusting or shocking or distasteful. But speech when you're trying to sell something is different altogether. Speech when you're selling something that could have significant risks, ten times so. No constitutional amendment is required here.

  • 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 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 Plunky ( 929104 ) on Sunday March 14, 2010 @02:12PM (#31473382)

    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 different are available for the same complaint, could the fact that the rep from A was here last week (wether he bought you sandwiches or not) influence your prescribing practice? Thats the way that advertising normally works. The company spends masses of money to get the brand name into your head, so that when you see it you recognise it.. and when you recognise it, you are more likely to buy it than not. This works well on <made up number> percentage of the population which I can only surmise includes doctors who are human in other respects.

Beware of Programmers who carry screwdrivers. -- Leonard Brandwein