CDD Asks FDA to Revise Its Proposed Research on the Digital Marketing of Drugs and Health Products
Washington, DC: The Center for Digital Democracy, in comments filed today with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), urged the agency to significantly revise its proposed studies on the “Examination of Online Direct-to-Consumer Prescription Drug Promotion.” Citing the wide variety of techniques that pharmaceutical and health marketers use to target consumers online, CDD called for a more informed analysis that reflects how U.S. health consumers are actually marketed to on social networks, mobile phones, and via the Web. Among the marketing techniques that CDD cited that must be part of any FDA research are “the tracking and managing of the ‘patient journey’ online”; data collection; the use of social media analytics and related viral marketing; the role of eye tracking, multivariate testing and other Web page optimization techniques to influence perception and behavior; and the impact of immersive multimedia content and neuromarketing designed to stealthily foster consumer decision-making through non-conscious means. Today is the deadline for comments in FDA’s proposed new research “designed to test different ways of presenting prescription drug risk and benefit information on branded drug Web sites” (Docket No. 2011-N-0230).
“While the FDA is to be commended for undertaking additional research before it issues further rules on digital and social media pharmaceutical marketing, we are concerned that the agency—responsible for protecting our health—still has a naïve view of how pharmaceutical digital marketing actually influences consumers,” explained CDD’s Executive Director Jeff Chester. “Online marketing is already an extensive, 360-degree juggernaut that features a wide range of techniques far beyond the scrolling text and banner ads the FDA seems to regard as state of the art. The agency should be in the forefront of ensuring U.S. health consumers have the safeguards they require as they increasingly rely on the Internet and social networks to make decisions about medications and medical treatments.”
In its detailed 45-page filing, CDD called on the FDA “to re-conceptualize and update its understanding of digital DTC pharmaceutical marketing,” and pledged its support to assist the agency in expanding its inquiry. CDD urged the FDA to consult with leading independent academic experts and consumer organizations knowledgeable of digital marketing in order to revise its research efforts. CDD’s filing asked the FDA to investigate and develop consumer safeguards for practices used by pharmaceutical and health marketers, including data mining technologies; personalized and behavioral advertising; social media marketing; search engine optimization; rich media and online video applications; mobile and location marketing; unbranded websites; minority and youth marketing; and the use of neuromarketing and other immersive tactics designed to deliberately bypass the rational decision-making process of consumers.