Health News Review

Content Analysis of False and Misleading Claims in Television Advertising for Prescription and Nonprescription Drugs,” is the title of a paper in the Journal of General Internal Medicine.

In the eyes of coders in this analysis, 57% of major claims in TV drug ads were potentially misleading.

But the researchers broke down different shades of truth.  For example:

Minimal Facts

A claim that presented a difference among products, but
exaggerated the importance of the difference, promoting
the difference as important when it is not; for example,
when advertisers use poor-quality clinical evidence to
support a claim, and exaggerate the clinical importance of
the poor-quality evidence.

  • “Bayer Quick Release Crystals are ready to work faster than caplets or tablets.” The formulation may dissolve quicker, but it is not taken up by the body any faster, nor will it relievepain faster than other formulations.
  • “Nothing works better than Prevacid” implies that Prevacid is superior to other heartburn remedies when, in fact, it is just as good as other heartburn remedies.

Nonfacts

A claim that presented an intangible characteristic, but not
about the product. Often these claims were in the form of
product opinions or lifestyle claims. Opinions say nothing
about the product, but consumers are left to misinterpret the
opinion as an objective product evaluation. Lifestyle claims
associate the product with a target market that the
advertiser believes is likely to buy the product, in the
absence of evidence to support additional benefit to this
subpopulation.

  • “Move on up to Aleve,” provides the advertisers baseless opinion or recommendation on the choice of product.
  • “AlkaSeltzer is the official cold medicine of the US Ski Team.” Product endorsements like this one are the opinion of a famous or identifiable entity and do not say anything about the functioning of the product.
  • “Help bridge the gap between the life you live and the life you want to live [by taking Enbrel].” This claim makes a vague lifestyle association between the product and the life “you want to life.”
  • “Levitra works for me. Maybe it can work for you,” provides the opinion of the actor in the advertisement about the functioning of Levitra.

False

A claim that was objectively false by directly contradicting
evidence, or lacking any evidence to support it.

  • “Alkaseltzer crystal packs are a taste-free powder.” Inspection of the inactive ingredients from the product label include both flavor and sucrose.
  • “The difference between Advil PM and Tylenol PM is a better night’s sleep.” The specificity of this claim implied that specific head-to-head comparative evidence was available. No studies had been published comparing Advil PM (ibuprofen with diphenhydramine) versus Tylenol PM (acetaminophen with diphenhydramine), only studies comparing ibuprofen

The researchers remind us that “consumers may see up to 30 hours of TV drug ads each year while only spending 15 to 20 minutes on average at each visit with their primary care physician.

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