What Was the First Drug Ever Advertised on TV?

1 year ago  •  Add Comment  •  by Donna Bliss

Have you ever wondered what the first drug advertisement was on television? Did you know that this advertisement  helped pave the way for modern drug advertisement today? We’ve dug up the history behind the first drug advert to give you some insight in history.

By understanding this history, you can see how drug advertisement came to benefit consumers.

The First Drug Ad: A Brief History

In the 1980s it was becoming increasingly popular for people to take charge of their own healthcare. This meant that consumers were deciding on their own drug selections, rather than relying entirely on doctors.

That’s when an employee of Boots Pharmaceuticals, Liz Moench, had the idea to run the first drug advertisement on television. It was an ad for a drug called Rufen and aired for the first time on May 19, 1983.

The ad’s message was simple. Boots Pharmaceutical wanted to promote Rufen as a more affordable pain reliever than Motrin, the primary pain reliever at the time. Within two days, the ad was taken down.

How the First Ad Impacted Drug Advertising

The ad was up and then back down within just two days. The FDA hadn’t updated drug advertisements regulations since the 1960s. This meant that they hadn’t accounted for massive advancements in technology transforming the way medicines were introduced to the public.

What Boots Pharmaceuticals brought to the forefront was that drugs needed to be targeted to consumers as well as doctors so that patients could make informed medical decisions. For this reason, the FDA allowed the ad to return to television with a few revisions.

The FDA did have genuine concerns, such as:

  • Would the adverts be too emotive rather than informative?
  • Will prescribed medications be trivialized because of how they’re portrayed in ads?
  • Can there be an increase in unnecessary medication usage due to ads?
  • Will ads cover any side effects that patients might experience?

By 1985, the FDA finally had rules concerning drug advertisements in place. The only issue was that these rules were too restrictive which led to a decline in drug advertisements on TV. Only by 1997, were the rules made more reasonable which led to how drug advertisements are portrayed today.

The State of Drug Advertising Now

Today, televised drug advertising as we know it is all thanks to that first ad made by Boots Pharmaceuticals. Its Rufen ad made it possible for pharmaceutical companies to reach consumers.

Despite this success, the American Medical Association still wants to ban TV drug ads because of the same reasons the FDA wanted to withdraw the ads in the 80s. Because of the First Amendment, drug ads are still being shown far and wide.

At the end of the day, freedom of speech, even in advertising, is a fundamental human right. As a result, televised drug ads will continue for many years in order to help people, thanks to the ingenuity of Boot Pharmaceutical many years ago.

Final Thoughts

The Rufen ad, aired in 1983, showed customers that with enough information, they can take more control over their healthcare. This doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t consult medical professionals but that there are cheaper or more effective alternatives out there.

Who would have thought that a simple ad could make a difference?

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