Consumer Reports AdWatch

Last updated: April 2012

Consumers are besieged daily by ads for prescription drugs, all beseeching you to "ask your doctor" for a given brand-name drug for an ailment that you might, or might not, actually have. Those ads don't always tell the whole story. They might, for example, play down or omit information about nondrug options, or imply that a drug works wonders for everyone when in reality it works only marginally better than a placebo. That's why we started the Consumer Reports AdWatch series. Our video commentaries on a sampling of direct-to-consumer drug ads are designed to give you the facts that the commercials leave out, so that you can be better informed when making health decisions. We hope that they're fun, too:

Direct to consumer (DTC) drug advertising is big business for a good reason--it works. In 2007 alone, drug companies spent $5,375,117,382 on advertising. Yes, that's $5.375 billion dollars. The chart below highlights 25 of the biggest spenders along with their sales, giving an indication of how much their ad spending has paid off (or not, in the case of Rozerem):

Drug Approved for DTC advertising 2008 Retail sales 2008 Sales per DTC ad dollar spent
Advair diskus Asthma $172,974,000 $3,572,473,000 $20.65
Plavix Heart attack/stroke risk reduction $169,780,000 $3,796,221,000 $22.36
Cymbalta Depression, anxiety, diabetic neuropathy $156,733,000 $2,170,162,000 $13.85
Ambien CR Insomnia $154,602,000 $865,719,000 $5.60
Abilify Schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, depression $152,440,000 $2,371,795,000 $15.56
Cialis Erectile dysfunction $141,834,000 $555,080,000 $3.91
Lyrica Fibromyalgia, seizures $141,369,000 $1,389,205,000 $9.83
Viagra Erectile dysfunction $122,487,000 $920,051,000 $7.51
Flomax Enlarged prostate $115,581,000 $1,236,963,000 $10.70
Lunesta Insomnia $108,874,000 $771,019,000 $7.08
Crestor High cholesterol $106,904,000 $1,676,553,000 $15.68
Symbicort Asthma $99,336,000 $237,955,000 $2.40
Lipitor High cholesterol $98,357,000 $5,880,128,000 $59.78
Valtrex Shingles and cold sores $91,984,000 $1,684,192,000 $18.31
Nasonex Seasonal allergies $91,787,000 $904,074,000 $9.85
Evista Osteoporosis $90,082,000 $499,924,000 $5.55
Boniva Osteoporosis $84,444,000 $512,179,000 $6.07
Chantix1 Smoking cessation $83,967,000 $605,323,000 $7.21
Reclast Osteoporosis $80,503,000 4,966,000 $0.06
Spiriva Asthma $75,750,000 $1,142,746,000 $15.09
Caduet High blood pressure and cholesterol $73,154,000 389,966,000 $5.33
Januvia Type 2 diabetes $71,163,000 $913,501,000 $12.84
Singulair Asthma and seasonal allergies $70,866,000 $2,898,060,000 $40.89
Enbrel Rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis $70,480,000 $763,927,000 $10.84
Avodart Enlarged prostate $69,762,000 $364,706,000 $5.23

1. Ads were for MyTimeToQuit.com, a Pfizer Web site that invites visitors to learn about a prescription treatment option for quitting smoking. Those who click this link are then directed to the Web site for Chantix, Pfizer’s smoking-cessation drug.

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