• Article

Attention to and distraction from risk information in prescription drug advertising An eye-tracking study

Direct-to-consumer (DTC) television ads must disclose a drug's most important risks. Currently, the risks must be presented in audio at a minimum. Studies have shown that presenting information with both audio and superimposed risk text (dual modality) improves recall beyond what is achieved using audio alone. However, distracting elements in DTC adsmay draw attention away fromthe superimposed risk text. This study combines eye-tracking data with questionnaire data to examine whether distracting elements decrease attention to the risk text in DTC ads, in turn affecting risk retention and risk perceptions. The authors randomly assign 300 U.S. opt-in panel members to view either a low-distraction or a high-distraction DTC television ad. The authors find that distracting elements during risk presentation drew attention away from the risk text and, in turn, reduced retention of drug risk information. Risk perceptions were not affected. These results suggest that even if dual modality is used to increase consumers' comprehension of drug risk information, distracting visuals should still be avoided to help consumers focus on key information in the ad.


Sullivan, H. W., Boudewyns, V., O'Donoghue, A., Marshall, S., & Williams, P. A. (2017). Attention to and distraction from risk information in prescription drug advertising: An eye-tracking study. Journal of Public Policy & Marketing, 36(2), 236-245. https://doi.org/10.1509/jppm.16.013

DOI Links