Communicating Risk Information in Direct-to-Consumer Prescription Drug Television Ads: A Content Analysis

Health Commun. 2019 Feb;34(2):212-219. doi: 10.1080/10410236.2017.1399509. Epub 2017 Nov 10.


Direct-to-consumer (DTC) television ads for prescription drugs are required to disclose the product's major risks in the audio or audio and visual parts of the presentation (sometimes referred to as the "major statement"). The objective of this content analysis was to determine how the major statement of risks is presented in DTC television ads, including what risk information is presented, how easy or difficult it is to understand the risk information, and the audio and visual characteristics of the major statement. We identified 68 DTC television ads for branded prescription drugs, which included a unique major statement and that aired between July 2012 and August 2014. We used subjective and objective measures to code 50 ads randomly selected from the main sample. Major statements often presented numerous risks, usually in order of severity, with no quantitative information about the risks' severity or prevalence. The major statements required a high school reading level, and many included long and complex sentences. The major statements were often accompanied by competing non-risk information in the visual images, presented with moderately fast-paced music, and read at a faster pace than benefit information. Overall, we discovered several ways in which the communication of risk information could be improved.

MeSH terms

  • Direct-to-Consumer Advertising / statistics & numerical data*
  • Drug-Related Side Effects and Adverse Reactions
  • Health Communication*
  • Health Literacy
  • Humans
  • Prescription Drugs*
  • Risk Assessment*
  • Television*


  • Prescription Drugs