Do TV Ads Correcting Misleading Statements by Drug Companies Work?

RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, N.C — When drug companies exaggerate or misstate the benefits or risks of medications in their advertising campaigns, the Food and Drug Administration may ask them to set the record straight by running "corrective advertisements."

But how well do these corrective ads work? Researchers at RTI International are going to find out.

As part of a $1.1 million contract, researchers at RTI will seek to assess the effectiveness of direct-to-consumer corrective ads as well as the duration of their effects.

"The FDA doesn't approve ads before they are aired," said Brian Southwell, a senior research scientist at RTI International and the project's director. "When the FDA learns about misleading ads, they sometimes try to ensure that pharmaceutical companies correct the mistakes by asking them to run ads that attempt to correct misperceptions."

For example, after Bayer, maker of the one-time best-selling birth control drug Yaz, overstated the drug's effectiveness in treating acne and premenstrual syndrome in its early ads, the FDA asked Bayer to conduct a corrective ad campaign.

"However, what we don't yet know is the extent to which these corrective ads are effective or whether they might have other consequences," Southwell said. "With these studies, FDA is going to start to answer those questions."

Working with participants from a consumer insights panel run by Knowledge Networks, researchers at RTI will conduct large-scale experiments with a sample of participants for whom a particular drug is relevant. Groups of participants will see various combinations of an original fictitious prescription drug television ad and an accompanying corrective ad. Researchers then will assess immediate and long-term responses to the ads among participants.