How to market diet pills: Prescription and over-the-counter pills may increase unhealthy behavior

Glaxo Smith Klines Alli, the first FDA-approved over-the-counter weight loss pill, hits shelves nationwide this Friday. Whether or not it succeeds depends a large part on its multilingual, multi-million dollar marketing campaign. A new study by Wharton professors and doctors at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine provides applicable new insight into consumer thinking about health remedies. A fat absorption pill, Alli has labeled itself as an over the counter non-prescription drug, but its marketing places heavy emphasis on its role as a supplement to a healthy lifestyle the sort of remedy marketing, the researchers argue, that promote the pills chances of working by encouraging complementary healthy behaviors such as exercise.

When consumers are diagnosed with a health condition such as obesity, they dont immediately trade fries for carrot sticks or start taking brisk walks after dinner. In a forthcoming paper in the Journal of Consumer Research, Lisa Bolton and Americus Reed, both marketing professors at Wharton School of Business, and Kevin G. Volpp and Katrina Armstrong, both professors at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, found that consumers who contemplate taking a prescription or over-the-counter drug for their condition become more likely to engage in bad habits like junk food and a sedentary lifestyle.

This boomerang effect happens for two reasons. First, drug marketing undermines motivation to live a healthy lifestyle why bother eating low-fat foods when a drug exists to fight fat for me" Drugs also appear to weaken consumers beliefs in their ability to live a healthy lifestyle by eating right and exercising.

Interestingly, in a series of experiments and test groups, the researchers found that supplements did not have this same boomerang effect on a healthy lifestyle: regardless of how effective the supplement actually is, consumer perceptions of supplements are that they require suppleme

Contact: Suzanne Wu
University of Chicago Press Journals

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