Visual images of prescription drug benefits in direct-to-consumer television advertisements

Patient Educ Couns. 2021 Sep;104(9):2240-2249. doi: 10.1016/j.pec.2021.02.024. Epub 2021 Feb 13.


Objective: Images demonstrating a prescription drug's efficacy are often included in direct-to-consumer television advertisements. The current research assessed whether exaggerated efficacy images can mislead individuals, and whether providing accurate quantitative information can reduce these misperceptions.

Methods: We conducted two experimental studies with internet panelists 60 years and older testing drug efficacy images in television ads for wet age-related macular degeneration (N = 901) and plaque psoriasis (N = 902). In each study, participants viewed one of six ads that varied in the efficacy images included (no image, accurate image, exaggerated image) and the presentation of quantitative information (absent, present). Measures included recall, perceptions, and numeracy.

Results: In both studies, participants who saw exaggerated images were more likely than those who saw no image or accurate images to overestimate efficacy. Presenting quantitative information increased participants' gist and verbatim recall of drug efficacy, and in some cases, led participants to have more accurate perceptions of the drug's efficacy even in the presence of exaggerated images. Higher numeracy was associated with better gist and verbatim recall.

Conclusions: These results support visual persuasion theory. Moreover, they show that exaggerating benefits visually can mislead viewers.

Practice implications: Stakeholders should ensure that images in direct-to-consumer promotion are accurate and non-misleading.

Keywords: Advertising; DTCA; Prescription drug; Quantitative; Television.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Advertising
  • Direct-to-Consumer Advertising*
  • Humans
  • Mental Recall
  • Persuasive Communication
  • Prescription Drugs*
  • Television


  • Prescription Drugs