Every time I hear an ad for a medication on television, I think of the adage, If the disease doesn’t kill you, the cure will.
After all, “the side effects might include. . .” list is usually so long and filled with so many undesirable things it would make anyone cringe.
I don’t like hearing the list, but I’m glad drug companies are required to provide this information in their advertising.
But according to research by Ruth Day, a researcher at Duke’s Medical Cognition Laboratory, drug industry advertising is developed so the side effects have extremely low “cognitive accessibility,” which is a fancy way of saying, they make it really hard to remember the bad stuff.
In Do Consumers Understand Drug Ads, Time Magazine explains her work and findings:
Day (whose research is not funded by either the industry or the FDA) analyzes ads for their linguistic complexity, speed of voiceovers, visual distractions and the timing of when information is given about drug benefits and side effects — all to help determine how easy it is to understand and remember the information presented.
It’s commonly understood by psychologists — and ad makers — that if a person is presented with a list of things, he or she is more likely to remember items at the beginning and at the end of the list than items just past the middle. For example, if you are asked to hear, then recall, a list of 10 foods, chances are best that you’ll forget the sixth, seventh and eighth foods.
So, while drug makers abide by the law and present important side effect information, it’s no surprise that they nearly all follow the same format: putting benefit information in the first half of the commercial, side effect information just past the middle, then benefit information again at the end.
Here’s a video that provides additional background:
So, in short, drug companies are complying with requirements for them to provide information regarding side effects, but are doing it in a way that makes it difficult to process or remember.
Are the drug companies following the rules and simply marketing smart, or are they manipulating consumers?
Comment below to weigh in.