Look, Puppies!: A Visual Content Analysis of Required Risk Statements Embedded in Direct-to-Consumer Pharmaceutical Advertising

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Direct-to-consumer advertising (DTCA) on television is a prominent source of information about medical conditions and their potential treatments. In the United States, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requires that DTCA include a major statement presenting the medication’s most important risk information in a fair and balanced manner. However, there is growing concern about the visual content that accompanies this risk information within DTCA major statements. Specifically, the FDA has failed to provide guidance on how to measure DTCA’s adherence to the fair and balanced provision. This research introduces eight metrics organized into three categories to perform a visual content analysis of 230 existing DTCAs. Using these metrics, the authors test for differences in visual content between the major risk statement and the remaining portions of an ad. Our results indicate that the major risk statements of DTCAs feature more positive imagery, visually complex imagery, and motion than other portions of the ads. The authors discuss the implications of these findings for public policy makers, consumers, and marketers.