Direct-to-consumer (DTC) advertisements are an important and influential source of health-related information for Americans. In 1997, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) relaxed regulations and permitted DTC drug advertisements to be televised. Now, via television alone, the average American is exposed to more than 30 hours annually of DTC advertisements for drugs,1 which exceeds, by far, the amount of time the average American spends with his/her physician.2 The United States spends $9.6 billion on DTC advertisements per year, of which $605 million is spent exclusively on DTC advertisements for dermatologic conditions—one of the highest amounts of spending for DTC advertisements, second only to diabetes.3
The increase in advertising for dermatologic conditions is reflective of the rapid growth in the number of treatment options available for chronic skin diseases, especially psoriasis. Since 2004, 11 biologics and 1 oral medication were FDA approved for the treatment of moderate to severe psoriasis. Despite the expansion of treatment options for psoriasis, knowledge and understanding of psoriasis and its treatments generally are poor,4,5 and undertreatment of psoriasis continues to be common.6 Data also suggest existing age and racial disparities in psoriasis treatment in the United States, whereby patients who are older or Black are less likely to receive biologic therapies.7-9 Although the exact causes of these disparities remain unclear, one study found that Black patients with psoriasis were less familiar with biologics compared to White patients,10 which suggests that the racial disparity in biologic treatment of psoriasis could be due to less exposure to and thus recognition of biologics as treatments of psoriasis among Black patients.
Some data suggest that DTC advertisements may affect drug uptake by encouraging patients to request advertised medications from their medical providers.11,12 As such, DTC advertisements are a potentially important source of exposure and information for patients. However, is it possible that DTC advertisements also may contribute to widening knowledge gaps among certain populations, and thus treatment disparities, by neglecting certain groups and targeting others with their content? In an effort to answer this question, we performed an analysis of DTC advertisements for psoriasis and eczema with special attention to advertisement placement, character representation, and disease-related content. We specifically targeted advertisements for psoriasis and eczema, as advertisements for the former are rampant and advertisements for the latter are on the rise because of emerging therapies. We hypothesized that age and racial/ethnic diversity among advertisement characters is poor, and disease-related content is lacking.
Materials and Methods
Study Design and Sample
We performed a cross-sectional analysis of televised DTC advertisements for psoriasis and eczema over 14 consecutive days (July 1, 2018, to July 14, 2018). We accessed Nielsen’s top 10 lists, specifically Prime Broadcast Network TV-United States and Prime Broadcast Programs Among African-American, from June 2018 and identified the networks with the greatest potential exposure to American consumers: ABC, CBS, FOX, and NBC.13,14 Each day, programming aired from 5 pm to 11 pm EST was recorded on a random selection of 2 of 4 listed networks. No pair of networks was recorded for 2 consecutive days, and each day of the week was represented for each network.
The FDA identifies DTC advertisement types as product-claim, reminder, and help-seeking advertisements. Product-claim advertisements are required to include the following information for the drug of interest: name; at least 1 FDA-approved indication; the most notable risks; and reference to a toll-free telephone number, website, or print advertisement by which a detailed summary of risks and benefits can be accessed. Reminder advertisements include the name of the drug but no information about the drug’s use.15 Help-seeking advertisements describe a disease or condition without referencing a specific drug treatment. Product-claim, reminder, and help-seeking advertisements for psoriasis or eczema that aired during the recorded time frame were included for analysis; advertisements that aired during sporting events and special programming were excluded.
DTC Advertisement Coding
Advertisement placement (ie, network, day of the week, time, associated television program), type, and target disease were documented for all advertisements included in the study. The content of each unique advertisement for psoriasis and eczema also was documented electronically in REDCap (Research Electronic Data Capture) as follows: characteristics of affected individuals and disease-related content. Advertisement coding was performed independently by 2 graduate students (A.H. and C.W.). First, one-third of the advertisements were randomly selected to be coded by both students. Intercoder agreement between the 2 students was 95.3%. Coding disagreements were primarily due to misunderstanding of definitions and were resolved through consensus. Subsequently, the remaining advertisements were randomly distributed between the 2 students, and each advertisement was coded by 1 student.
All data were summarized descriptively with counts and frequencies using Stata 15 (StataCorp).
We identified 297 DTC advertisements addressing 25 different conditions during our study period. CBS, ABC, NBC, and FOX aired 44.4%, 26.3%, 24.4%, and 5.1% of advertisements, respectively. Overall, DTC advertisements were least likely to air on Saturdays and between the hours of 5 pm and 6 pm on any day. Product-claim advertisements accounted for 83.2% of DTC advertisements, 15.8% were help-seeking advertisements, and the remaining 1.0% were reminder advertisements. Advertisements for skin conditions represented 16.5% (n=49) of all DTC advertisements, of which 81.6% (n=40) were for psoriasis or eczema, while the other 18.4% (n=9) were for hyperhidrosis. In total, 13 advertisements for psoriasis and 27 advertisements for eczema were aired during the study period.