- The FDA plans to study the use of animated cartoon characters and other techniques in drug advertisements to determine whether they influence consumer behavior, according to a notice published Wednesday.
- The agency filed a request for comment in the federal register for the study, which aims to enroll 1,500 participants across two experiments.
- Animation in drug ads could potentially mislead consumers by minimizing risks or directing consumer attention away from safety information.
Direct-to-consumer (DTC) drug ads have received a great deal of scrutiny recently. In November 2015, the American Medical Association called for a ban on DTC ads by drug companies, arguing they push patients into higher cost treatments.
In this study, the FDA wants to examine whether animated characters or other animation may affect consumer perceptions of the risk and benefits of the advertised drug. Recently, a number of high profile drugs such as Lamisil, Zoloft, Lunesta, and Abilify have utilized animated characters or animation depicting the drug's mechanism of action.
"Despite variations in form, animated characters are often used to grab attention, increase ad memorability, and enhance persuasion to ultimately drive behavior," the notice from the FDA said. Animation could trigger increased engagement or enjoyment of the ad, and those positive effects might be transferred to the brand itself.
The FDA suggested these effects may skew perception of the drug's safety profile. "It is also possible that animated characters may lead to lower perceived risk by minimizing or camouflaging side effects."
The embattled drug company Valeant has two notable products, Jublia and Xifaxan, which rely on animated characters. Valeant aired commercials for both drugs during Super Bowl 50, one of the most high-profile ad time slots.