DIRECT-TO-CONSUMER ADVERTISING PLAYS ON EMOTIONS Nearly all the pharmaceutical ads consumers see on television are based on emotional appeals, and few provide necessary details about the causes of a medical condition, risk factors or lifestyle changes that may be appropriate alternatives to pharmaceutical interventions. In a content analysis of 38 unique pharmaceutical advertisements that ran during peak television viewing times, researchers found that 82 percent made some factual claim and 86 percent made rational arguments for product use, but few (26 percent) described condition causes, risk factors, or prevalence (25 percent). Ninety-five percent used emotional appeals and none mentioned lifestyle change as an alternative to products. The ads often framed medication use in terms of losing (58 percent) and regaining control (85 percent) over some aspect of life.
The authors assert that the use of emotional appeals may sway consumers in favor of a product and prompt viewers to discount information about risks and benefits that is important when considering medication use. These findings are especially important given the marked increase in direct-to-consumer advertising the average television viewer sees as many as 16 hours of pharmaceutical advertising in a year.
An accompanying editorial by David Kessler, dean of the University of California, San Francisco, School of Medicine and former commissioner of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, questions who benefits from direct-to-consumer advertising when the ads do not convey important information about drug risks and benefits. He concludes that while there is nothing inherently wrong with pharmaceutical companies communicating directly with consumers, they should adhere to the standards and ethics of medicine, not the standards and ethics of selling consumer products that present minimal risk and that physicians need to use caution before writing a prescription when a patient asks
Contact: Kristin Robinson
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American Academy of Family Physicians