TV commercials for prescription drugs are more common and more serious: 3 things to know

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Television advertisements for prescription drugs have not only grown in frequency — up 65 percent from 2012 through 2016 — but in severity, as consumers today encounter commercials for more critical illnesses, according to The New York Times.

Here are three things to note about televised prescription drug advertisements today. 

1. Kantar Media records 771,368 airings of prescription drug commercials in 2016, the last full year for which data is available. "Spending by pharmaceutical companies has more than doubled in the past four years, making it the second-fastest-growing category on television during that time," Jon Swallen, Kantar's chief research officer, told NYT.

2. Ads are keeping pace with health issues more likely experienced by drugmakers' prime audience of consumers ages 65 and older. "In the old days, it was allergies and acid reflux and whatnot," Thomas Lom, a consultant and former senior executive at several healthcare ad agencies, told NYT. "Now, it's cardiology issues. It's cancer."

3. The number of side effects listed in 60-second commercials evoke debate. As commercials today tout more critical health conditions, research suggests consumers experiencing specific conditions see the verbal listing of side effects as information that enhances advertiser credibility. At the same time, critics say these commercials compress a sizeable amount of serious information — more than is covered in commercials for any other industry — into a 60-second ad spot. This can run the risk of consumers experiencing this information as white noise. 

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