Emotional messaging trumps information in TV drug ads, according to a study published in the January/February 2007 issue of the Annals of Family Medicine.
The study found that while nearly all of the ads made some factual claims and rational arguments, few described condition causes, risk factors or prevalence and none mentioned lifestyle change as an alternative to medication. Nearly all employed an emotional appeal. Researchers coded 103 ads that ran in prime time during 2004 for factual claims made about the target condition, how they attempted to appeal to consumers and how they portray the medication and lifestyle behaviors in the lives of ad characters.
In an editorial running alongside the study, former FDA commissioner David Kessler and Douglas Levy of the University of California San Francisco School of Medicine called on policy makers to “take further action so that the facts about medicines are not lost in the
Kessler and Levy noted soaring spending on advertising for drugs to treat sleep disorders, which they called “inconsequential when compared to the major causes of death” in the US. They rebuked the industry's argument that DTC ads prompt patient-physician dialogue that can lead to diagnosis and better treatment. “What is equally important is the possibility—the likelihood—that consumers who make health decisions based on what they learn from television commercials ultimately take medicines they may not need, spend money on brand medicines that may be no better than alternatives, or avoid healthy behaviors because they falsely think a medicine is all they need,” wrote Kessler and Levy.