August 23rd, 2007

The Pictures Are Happy, the Words Are a Bummer

By Jacob Goldstein
Wall Street Journal

A lithe woman dances her way through a field of flowers, or whatever. Maybe her hair’s blowing in the wind. She’s definitely smiling–a lot. Meanwhile, the monotone voiceover tells you about horrible things like diarrhea, swelling and heart disease. So what’s the real message about the drug being advertised–the woman’s winning smile or the announcer’s warning?

That’s what the FDA wants to know about direct-to-consumer drug ads, which are heavy on smiling people and monotone warnings. The agency said today that it’s planning a study of more than 1,000 adults over the age of 40 to get a better idea of how the ads work.

Basically, the agency plans to show ordinary people a drug ad, then see what they understood about the drug’s risks and benefits. FDA also wants to know their overall impression of the drug is. As the agency notes in a proposal of the study, “compelling visuals could simply distract consumers from carefully considering and encoding the risk information.”

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