Direct-to-consumer (DTC) advertising is when a manufacturer, particularly a pharmaceutical company, promotes its product directly to the consumer and not merely to middlemen in the chain of distribution, such as physicians.
There used to be no DTC advertising by pharmaceuticals. But recently there has been an enormous increase in DTC advertising for prescription drugs, and this has yielded a 32% increase in sales of prescription drugs. In 2004, the pharmaceutical industry spent $4.2 billion on DTC advertisements for prescription medications, compared to spending only $595.5 million on DTC advertisements in 1996.
The FDA prohibits three types of DTC about a prescription drug: (1) inadequate risk information about adverse effects, (2) misleading effectiveness claims, and (3) misleading comparative claims. In addition, the FDA particularly scrutinizes and disfavors the promotion of unapproved or "off-label" uses of prescription drugs.
Direct-to-consumer advertising of pharmcuticals is often regarded as giving patients false hope, and a mistaken impression that they are sufficiently informed to judge their own medical needs. Patients pressure their doctors to perscribe medication which may not be suitable for their condition. For this reason, many countries such as the United Kingdom ban direct-to-consumer pharmacutical advertising completely.