Ban distracting music in drug ads, consumers advocates urge FDA

Two advocacy groups filed a citizen's petition with the FDA Aug. 3 asking the agency to ban the use of music in prescription drug commercials during the portion that lists drugs' potential side effects. 

The groups — Knowledge Ecology International and the Center for Digital Democracy, both based in Washington, D.C. — argue that consumers may be too easily distracted by music in ads and not absorb the information regarding drugs' risks. 

In their petition, they cited a 2004 study showing that more than 97 percent of ads with audio risk information had a distraction during the risk disclosure. 

"Advertisers' use of background music is a distraction from the presentation of risks, because the type of music they choose is incongruent with the message presented, and it bombards the viewer with excess stimuli, making it difficult for them to retain the information," the petition states. 

The groups argued that distracting music leads to viewers comprehending the benefits of drugs more than the risks, which leads to unfair, highly positive views of advertised drugs. 

They also argued that music during ads' risk information warnings results in overdiagnosis and physicians writing too many unnecessary prescriptions. 

The pharmaceutical industry spent about $6.1 billion promoting drugs to consumers in 2019, according to Kantar Health, a New York City-based research company. 

Drugmakers, physicians and consumer groups have long debated how prescription drug ads influence consumers and their understanding of drugs' risks and benefits, according to STAT

The pharmaceutical industry has traditionally argued that the ads are educational, while consumer groups say that many TV ads tout more expensive drugs and make risk information hard to understand. Physicians resented the possibility that ads prompt consumers to ask for unnecessary prescriptions, STAT reported. 

Richard Meyer, a pharmaceutical industry consultant, told STAT: "This has been tested so many times by so many companies. The background music doesn’t distract from side-effect recall. People are used to that and often have volume turned down. Remember, that the most visited page on pharma websites is the safety page."

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