Advocacy Groups Petition FDA to Limit Music During Drug Ads

Two advocacy groups, Knowledge Ecology International and the Center for Digital Democracy, filed a citizen’s petition with the FDA regarding the use of music in television and online ads for pharmaceuticals that recite side effects. The groups are asking for the agency to ban music while a drug’s side effects are being listed, warning that it may distract consumers.

Knowledge Ecology International is a nongovernment organization that deals with issues related to intellectual property and public health, e-commerce, and competition policy. The Center for Digital Democracy is a digital rights, consumer protection, and privacy organization.

The petition argues that ads with music often fail to comply with the FDA’s “fair balance” guidelines regarding direct-to-consumer (DTC) advertisements, which require equal representation of a pharmaceutical’s benefits and risks within an ad.

“[Ads with music] create special fair balance compliance challenges for marketers of prescription drugs and policymakers because of the interplay of two different sensory modalities (audio and visual) used to present risk and benefit information communicated in a relatively short period of time,” the petition states.

Pharmaceutical industry marketing experts have pushed back on this claim, arguing that the music is not as distracting or detrimental as the advocacy groups believe.

“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,” said Richard Meyer, a former Eli Lilly executive, told STAT. “Remember that the most visited page on pharma websites is the safety page.”

Sources: STAT, August 3, 2020; Citizen Petition to the FDA, August 3, 2020.