A review of DTCA techniques: Appraising their success and potential impact on medication users

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Abstract

Background:

Direct-to-consumer advertising (DTCA) has been present in some countries for nearly two decades. Its success and ramifications have been examined but not yet cataloged recently in a comprehensive manner.

Objective:

To review existing literature studies on the topic of DTCA techniques to provide an analysis of the current methods considered by drug marketers to enhance the effect of pharmaceutical product promotion and its success, as well as examine ramifications on the drug use process.

Methods:

A search of 7 electronic databases including MEDLINE and SCOPUS was conducted in December 2015, and updated until February 2016. A scientific review of literature (2008–2015) was performed to identify and collate information from relevant, peer reviewed original study articles investigating various DTCA techniques commonly employed in pharmaceutical promotion. A thematic analysis was undertaken to categorize categories of drug promotion, or techniques, and the saliency and impact of these.

Results:

Nineteen original study articles were included in this review. All articles were based in the U.S. and New Zealand, where DTCA is legal. After reviewing all the articles, 4 themes with 11 subcategories were generated. These themes included disease mongering and medicalization, drug references, advertisement strategies and eDTCA. The themes describe different categories of techniques used to augment DTC advertisements to increase their impact and overall success in promoting a pharmaceutical product.

Results:

Many DTCA techniques utilized by pharmaceutical marketers are beneficial to the success of DTC promotion of a drug. These techniques include the use of drug efficacy information, comparative claims, non-branded help seeking advertisements, formatted risks information, celebrity or expert endorsers and website trust factors. Through their use, public perception of the drug is made more favorable, increased attention is drawn to the advertisement, and the pharmaceutical product gains greater credibility and subsequent success in sales. However some techniques, although beneficial to pharmaceutical promotion, need to be monitored by policymakers and regulatory advisors, as they have the potential to negatively impact consumer health knowledge.

Conclusion:

Overall, through this review it is evident that there are a number if techniques that employed by pharmaceutical marketers to augment the success of pharmaceutical promotion. While these techniques may be beneficial to pharmaceutical companies and might increase awareness amongst consumers, it is important to be critical of them, as they have the potential to be exploited by pharmaceutical marketers. This review indicated that although some techniques are successful and appear to be satisfactory in providing information to consumers, other techniques need to be appraised more closely.

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