Note to Pharma: Stop With the Dancing! (And Get Off My Lawn)

August 19, 2019By Dara Katcher Levy

After reading OPDP’s latest enforcement letter, we had déjà vu all over again and were transported back to 2016 when we blogged that OPDP was Not Dead Yet.  At that time, OPDP had posted two enforcement letters on the same day relating to TV ads and alleging misleading risk presentations.  Both letters cited to individuals dancing during the major statement.  Fast forward almost 3 years and OPDP’s fourth letter of 2019 asserts the following:

Additionally, the presentation of certain risk information in the “major statement” of risks through audio and SUPERs is undermined by the simultaneous presentation of fast-paced visuals that feature choreographed dancing to instrumental background music and multiple scene changes. . .  As a result, it is difficult for consumers to adequately process and comprehend the risk information, resulting in a misleading impression of the drug’s risks.

The language is almost identical to the language used in one of OPDP’s 2016 Letters:

The TV ad communicates the “major statement” of serious risks through the audio and onscreen SUPERS. At the same time, the TV ad presents fast-paced visuals that feature a man continuously dancing to music from the song “Let’s Groove” throughout multiple scene changes . . .   As a result, it is difficult for consumers to adequately process and comprehend the risk information. The overall effect undermines the communication of the important risk information and thereby misleadingly minimizes the risks associated with the use of Toujeo.

Putting OPDP’s apparent disdain for dancing aside, allegations of misleading risk presentations in TV ads due to distractions are not new.   It is consistent with previous enforcement letters (see, e.g., here) as well as FDA research on consumer comprehension of risk.   And, in fairness, OPDP’s latest letter did not simply allege that dancing was the issue – OPDP cited omissions and other mechanisms for minimizing risk in this 30 second commercial.

So, what are the key takeaways here (the tl; dr if you will): The subject of OPDP’s latest letter ticks off at least two boxes from previously stated enforcement priorities – the ad was a far-reaching campaign (DTC TV) and was the subject of a complaint (brought to FDA’s attention through the “Bad Ad” program).  Other enforcement priorities for OPDP are drugs new to the market; drugs that have serious risks; and drugs cited for past violations.

One need only look at OPDP’s research page to see the emphasis put on consumer comprehension and understand that DTC is a high enforcement priority.  Given the number of studies specific to TV ads, industry should holistically consider visuals, audio and timing (both overall length of the commercial as well as narration cadence) and how these play into consumer comprehension.

And then there’s another key takeaway – don’t include dancing in TV ads for drugs.  While not a specifically stated enforcement priority, it doesn’t seem to go well.