A cross-media content analysis of motivational themes in direct-to-consumer prescription drug advertising

Clin Ther. 2004 Jan;26(1):135-54. doi: 10.1016/s0149-2918(04)90014-8.


Background: Direct-to-consumer (DTC) advertising of prescription drugs is a widely discussed issue in health care. However, little is known about the characteristics of the motivational themes used in this type of advertising.

Objectives: The aim of this study was to investigate the concurrent presentation of motivational themes in DTC print and television advertisements.

Methods: The content analyses focused on advertisements of 2 targeted drug classes (cyclooxygenase-2 enzyme inhibitors and 3-hydroxy-3-methylglutaryl coenzyme A reductase inhibitors) in magazines and on television. Targeted print advertisements (for celecoxib, rofecoxib, atorvastatin, pravastatin, and simvastatin) from September to December 2001 and targeted television advertisements (for celecoxib, rofecoxib, and simvastatin) from November 2001 were investigated. The motivational themes were assessed using a theoretical framework based on self-regulatory focus theory and cultural orientation. Self-regulatory focus was examined in terms of goal orientation (promotion vs prevention) and emotional aspects, (e.g., cheerfulness, dejection, quiescence, agitation). The cultural orientation was examined in terms of individualism versus collectivism. The visual-verbal match was categorized as direct if the audio and visual information was semantically redundant, as partial if it was partially related, and as no match at all if it was different or conflicting.

Results: Twelve print advertisements in 10 magazines and 4 television advertisements on 4 television networks were examined; the interrater reliability scores from 3 independent, trained judges ranged from 0.93 to 0.99. The score was low (0.57) in the visual-verbal match measurement for television advertisements. Products in the same category appeared to be promoted using different self-regulatory foci. For example, celecoxib and atorvastatin advertisements tended to be promotion oriented, whereas pravastatin advertisements tended to be prevention oriented. Motivational themes were found throughout the print advertisements (e.g., pictures, headlines, main text). Only a few advertisements illustrated factual information about a product in a pictorial format. The cultural orientation of the advertisements was similar across brands, with individualistic appeals being common. On television, visual-verbal matches (either direct or partial matches) were generally found, except in the section where risk information was presented.

Conclusion: In this content analysis, prescription drugs in the same class appeared to be promoted using different self-regulatory foci, but individualistic appeals were found more often than collectivistic appeals across brands.

MeSH terms

  • Advertising / methods*
  • Cyclooxygenase Inhibitors
  • Drug Industry / methods*
  • Humans
  • Hydroxymethylglutaryl-CoA Reductase Inhibitors
  • Motivation*
  • Periodicals as Topic
  • Television


  • Cyclooxygenase Inhibitors
  • Hydroxymethylglutaryl-CoA Reductase Inhibitors