Although the pharmaceutical industry contends that direct-to-consumer prescription drug advertising is educational and motivating, a new analysis reported on in the Annals of Family Medicine finds that the educational value of those TV ads has decreased since 2007.

A "positive portrayal" of meds

Researchers found a significant decrease in the percentage of ads conveying information about the conditions being targeted, such as risk factors (decreased from 26 percent to 16 percent) and prevalence (decreased from 25 percent to 16 percent). Positive emotional appeals continued to be emphasized (94 percent of ads), with a decrease in the use of negative emotional appeals (from 75 percent to 51 percent), resulting in a more positive portrayal of the medication experience.

Lifestyle changes included less

Lifestyles portrayed in the ads emphasized how products can enable more recreational activities (69 percent of ads), while fewer ads suggested lifestyle change in addition to the product (decreased from 23 percent to seven percent).

The authors suggest that portraying positive aspects of the post-medication 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
Janelle Applequist, PhD, et al
University of South Florida, Tampa, Florida

Annals of Family Medicine is a peer-reviewed, indexed research journal that provides a cross-disciplinary forum for new, evidence-based information affecting the primary care disciplines. Launched in May 2003, Annals is sponsored by seven family medical organizations, including the American Academy of Family Physicians, the American Board of Family Medicine, the Society of Teachers of Family Medicine, the Association of Departments of Family Medicine, the Association of Family Medicine Residency Directors, the North American Primary Care Research Group, and the College of Family Physicians of Canada. Complete editorial content can be accessed free of charge on the journal’s website,