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Gap Between Educational and Promotional Content in Direct-to-Consumer TV Ads for Pharmaceuticals Widens

Although proponents suggest that direct-to-consumer prescription drug advertising is educational and motivating, a new analysis finds that the potential educational value of such advertising has declined. Compared with an analysis of direct-to-consumer television advertising published in 2007, this study found a significant decrease in the percentage of ads conveying information about the conditions being targeted, such as risk factors (decreased from 26% to 16%) and prevalence (decreased from 25% to 16%). Positive emotional appeals continued to be emphasized (94% of ads), with a decrease in the use of negative emotional appeals (from 75% to 51%), resulting in a more positive portrayal of the medication experience. Lifestyles portrayed in the ads emphasized how products can enable more recreational activities (69% of ads), while fewer ads suggested lifestyle change in addition to the product (decreased from 23% to 7%). The authors suggest that portraying positive aspects of the postmedication experience, such as recreational activities, endurance, and social approval, may have motivational value, but may also imply off-label outcomes and encourage an inappropriately broad population to seek the advertised drug. According to the authors, improving the educational value of direct-to-consumer advertising is likely to require further regulatory action by the FDA, rather than reliance on self-regulation by the pharmaceutical industry.

"An Updated Analysis of Direct-to-Consumer Television Advertisements for Prescription Drugs" by Janelle Applequist, PhD, et al, of the University of South Florida in Tampa, Florida, was published in the May/June 2018 issue of the Annals of Family Medicine.

Source: Annals of Family Medicine