Direct-to-consumer prescription drug advertising, 1989-1998. A content analysis of conditions, targets, inducements, and appeals

J Fam Pract. 2000 Apr;49(4):329-35.


Background: We conducted a content analysis of consumer-targeted prescription drug advertisements to explore trends in prevalence, shifts in the medical conditions for which drugs are promoted, reliance on financial and nonmonetary inducements, and appeals used to attract public interest.

Methods: We collected the drug advertisements appearing in 18 consumer magazines from 1989 through 1998. Two judges independently coded each advertisement and placed it in a category pertaining to the target audience, use of inducements, and product benefits (mean kappa=0.93). We employed descriptive statistics, cross-tabulations, and curve estimation procedures.

Results: A total of 320 distinct advertisements were identified, representing 101 brands and 14 medical conditions. New advertisement and brand introductions increased dramatically during this decade. Advertisements for drugs used for dermatologic, human immunodeficiency virus/acquired immune deficiency syndrome (HIV/AIDS), and obstetric/gynecologic conditions were most common. Almost all of the advertisements were aimed at the potential user of the drug, not third-party intermediaries such as parents and spouses. Although most advertisements were gender-neutral, women were more likely to be exclusively targeted. One eighth of the advertisements offered a monetary incentive (eg, a rebate or money-back guarantee), and one third made an offer of additional information in printed or audio/video form. The most common appeals used were effectiveness, symptom control, innovativeness, and convenience.

Conclusions: Consumer-directed prescription drug advertising has increased dramatically during the past decade. The pharmaceutical industry is turning to this type of advertising to generate interest in its products. Our data may be useful to physicians who want to stay abreast of the treatments that are being directly marketed to their patients.

MeSH terms

  • Advertising / statistics & numerical data*
  • Advertising / trends
  • Drug Industry*
  • Humans
  • Periodicals as Topic / statistics & numerical data*
  • United States