Background: US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulations state that any prescription drug promotion that presents drug benefits to consumers must also disclose certain information about the drug's risks in a similar manner. Nearly three-quarters of all US mobile phone subscribers use a smartphone, and over half report receiving mobile advertisements on their device.
Objective: The objective of this project was to investigate how prescription drugs are being promoted to consumers using mobile technologies. We were particularly interested in the presentation of drug benefits and risks, with regard to presence, placement, and prominence.
Methods: We analyzed a sample of 51 mobile promotional communications and their associated linked landing pages. We assessed the content and format of the mobile communications and landing pages with regard to presentation of drug benefits and risks.
Results: Of the 51 mobile communications we coded, 41% (21/51) were product claim communications (includes the drug name, benefits, and risks), 22% (11/51) were reminder communications (includes drug name only), and 37% (19/51) were help-seeking communications (includes information about the medical condition but not the drug name). Some of the product claim communications (5/21, 24%) required scrolling to see all the benefit information; in contrast, 95% (20/21) required scrolling to see all the risk information. Of the 19 product claim communications that presented both benefits and risks, 95% (18/19) presented benefits before risks and 47% (9/19) used a bigger font for benefits than for risks. Most mobile communications (35/51, 69%) linked to branded drug websites with both benefits and risks, 25% (13/51) linked to a landing page with benefits but no visible risks, and 6% (3/51) linked to a landing page with risks but no visible benefits. Few landing pages (4/51, 8%) required scrolling to see all the benefit information; in contrast, 51% (26/51) required scrolling to see all the risk information. Of the 35 landing pages with both benefit and risk information, 71% (25/35) presented benefits before risks and 51% (18/35) used a bigger font for benefits than for risks.
Conclusions: These results indicate that, while risks and benefits are both represented in mobile communications and their associated landing pages, they are not equally prominent and accessible. This has implications for compliance with FDA fair balance regulations.