• Article

Content analysis of comparative claims in drug advertisements

PurposeThe purpose of this study is to describe the trends and practices of comparative prescription drug advertising by examining the types of comparative claims made in direct-to-consumer (DTC) and direct-to-physician (DTP) print advertisements.

Design/methodology/approachThe authors conducted a content analysis of 54 DTC and DTP print prescription drug advertisements (published between 1997 and 2014) with comparative claims.

FindingsEfficacy-based comparisons appeared in 64 per cent of advertisements, and attribute-based comparisons appeared in 37 per cent of advertisements. Most advertisements made direct (vs indirect) references to competitors (85 per cent), compared the advertised drug to a single (vs multiple) competitor (78 per cent), focused exclusively on one type of comparison claim (i.e. efficacy-, risk- or attribute-based) (70 per cent) and did not contain data-driven visual aids (82 per cent). Some differences between DTC and DTP advertisements emerged. More DTP than DTC advertisements included data-driven visual aids (82 per cent vs 0 per cent, respectively), included numerical data (88 per cent vs 53 per cent) and conveyed statistical significance (52 per cent vs 12 per cent).

Research limitations/implicationsThe study used a convenience sample rather than a random sample of advertisements; thus, the findings might not be generalizable to all pharmaceutical DTC and DTP advertisements. Examining the tactics that advertisers use to educate and influence consumers and physicians sets the foundation for future studies that examine the effects of their exposure to comparative claims. Suggestions for future research are discussed.

Originality/valueThis study is the first to examine and statistically compare the comparative advertising tactics used in both consumer and physician prescription drug advertisements.


Boudewyns-Paquin, V., & Williams, P. (2016). Content analysis of comparative claims in drug advertisements. International Journal of Pharmaceutical and Healthcare Marketing, 10(3), 302-322. https://doi.org/10.1108/IJPHM-09-2014-0055