PharmExec Blog

Bad Ad: One Year of Fear

FDA’s Bad Ad program, launched in May of 2010, resulted in some 328 reports of potentially untruthful or misleading promotion, a handful of Warning Letters, and several Untitled Letters.

But the single most effective tool in the Bad Ad program’s toolkit, according to Arnie Friede, principal at Arnold I. Friede & Associates, and a former associate chief counsel at FDA, is fear. Or rather, in terrorem, a “Latin term that lawyers use” to mean frightening someone into compliance, says Friede.

When the program launched, FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg sent an explanatory letter to “more than 33,000” physicians, a fraction of the roughly 972,000 physicians in the US. Sales force management and reps themselves will have to decide if they are willing to play Russian roulette with a physician who may or may not be an informer. “FDA is trying to create the perception that the rep doesn’t know if the doctor is or is not a friend,” says Friede. “Accordingly, reps should be on the straight and narrow.” For FDA, the conversation between a rep and a doctor is one of the hardest areas to regulate efficiently, according to Friede. Creating in terrorem means prevention, he says.

Concerns about the Bad Ad program being abused by competing brands seem to be unfounded. According to FDA’s Division of Drug Marketing, Advertising and Communications (DDMAC), only 4% of the complaints that came in since last May were anonymous. Friede says complaining to DDMAC about competing brand messages is not something new, to be facilitated by the Bad Ad program. “There are plenty of channels for competitive complaints with DDMAC,” says Friede. Companies wishing to complain about marketing materials anonymously can simply do it through a law firm, Friede says, adding that “people that live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones.”

Of the 328 submissions to the Bad Ad program, 188 came from HCPs, 116 from consumers, and 24 were submitted by industry representatives. The program will be expanded this year, according to DDMAC, to include a “web-based continuing education program,” and a new focus on med students and early career HCPs. FDA will also seek collaborations with medical, pharmacy and nursing schools to “enhance student education.”

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