Rx TV Ads: Do Americans Understand Drugs’ Benefits and Risks?

Jennifer Berktold

Every day, thousands of Americans are exposed to regular doses of prescription drug media promotions, but how well do they understand both the benefits and risks of those drugs, and what is the impact of paid endorsement disclosures on their understanding? Jennifer Berktold, Ph.D., a Westat Senior Study Director, and her team will address these questions for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

“Product ads featuring endorsements by celebrities, physicians, patients, and influencers have exploded in recent years, especially on digital media,” says Dr. Berktold. “Drug manufacturers have taken notice and are increasingly using influencers to promote prescription drugs on digital media. Influencers may use different tags like #ad, #sponsor, or #partner to disclose their relationships to the manufacturer, but some don’t disclose their relationships at all.

"Our experimental study—the Endorser Status and Explicitness of Payment in Direct-to-Consumer Rx Promotion—will examine the influence of endorsements and study participants’ reactions to drug promotions that disclose the presence of paid endorsers," she continues. "Our findings will increase FDA’s understanding of consumers’ grasp of the information in direct-to-consumer (DTC) prescription drug promotions and help the agency develop more effective ways to make sure consumers understand the risks of promoted prescription drugs, as well as their benefits.”

Dr. Berktold explains that the survey will be conducted online, involving participants representing a cross-section of the U.S. population. The Westat team will create 2 fictitious prescription drug ads for 2 different medical conditions. To look as real as possible, the ads will follow FDA guidelines and present branding and positive emotional appeals.

To create the stimuli, Westat is using our company-developed quality control framework. These include adhering to FDA guidelines for prescription drug promotions, making the stimuli believable and consistent with what people are seeing in ads now, and reflecting the current marketplace. “We will incorporate in our fictitious drug profiles enough unique elements to differentiate them from approved products,” says Dr. Berktold.

The study requires experience in communications, graphic design, message development, influencer marketing, cognitive testing, experimental design, and statistical analysis, says Dr. Berktold. “It also demands applying best practices in questionnaire design and in health communications research.”

“We’re very excited about this project. We believe our findings will ultimately help FDA make sure drug manufacturers provide consumers with balanced information about both the benefits and the risks of the prescription drugs that they are promoting,” says Dr. Berktold.

Read other Feature Stories in this series on qualitative research:

We believe our findings will ultimately help FDA make sure drug manufacturers provide consumers with balanced information about both the benefits and the risks of the prescription drugs that they are promoting.

- Jennifer Berktold, Ph.D., a Westat Senior Study Director, Social Policy & Economics Research

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