In addition to surveillance and enforcement of drug promotion activities, the FDA’s Office of Prescription Drug Promotion (OPDP) also conducts numerous research studies in order to provide better education and guidance to the public. These studies enable the OPDP to further their mission “to protect the public health by ensuring that prescription drug information is truthful, balanced, and accurately communicated.”

At this month’s DIA Advertising and Promotion Regulatory Affairs Conference, we listened to a panel of OPDP social science analysts describe some of their recent research studies and outcomes, which may affect how you market your next drug. A brief summary of two studies and their findings are described below.

Study 1: How a claim of “#1 prescribed” alongside efficacy information impacts viewer preference

At the outset of this study, researchers knew that DTC ads with market leadership claims (e.g., “#1 selling,” “doctor recommended”) created the perception of greater drug effectiveness than ads without those claims1. They also knew that ads with efficacy data (e.g., “52% of patients saw improvement”) lowered the perceived effectiveness as compared with those without that data present2.

OPDP researchers therefore wondered what would happen if market leadership claims were paired with efficacy data. Would perceptions of efficacy data counteract the benefit of the market leadership claim?

Participants in the study were presented with two ads. One displayed a “#1 prescribed” claim alongside efficacy data (Drug A) and one displayed only efficacy data (Drug B). They found that participants still preferred Drug A for its market leadership claim until Drug B had an efficacy level that was 1.23% higher than Drug A. They therefore concluded that “#1 prescribed” did slightly influence the viewer’s choice, even when paired with efficacy data3.

Study 2: Do adolescents perceive drug risks and benefits differently than adults?

In this study, researchers wanted to see if adolescents adequately understand risk information provided to them in DTC ads, especially as compared with their adult counterparts. To test this, they created two fictitious websites—one about an acne medication and one about an ADHD medication—and required all participants to view the web page and watch an embedded video twice. They then asked a variety of questions about each drug’s benefits, side effects, comparison of side effects to benefits, and the viewer’s interest in obtaining more information or taking the drug.

They found that adolescents were able to adequately understand the perceived risks and benefits when exposed to them in the ads. However, adolescents perceived high risks as more extreme than their young adult counterparts and low risks as less extreme. In future research, the OPDP hopes to gather additional qualitative results as well as measure how emotional factors (e.g., social stigma, embarrassment, etc.) might affect an adolescent’s decision despite the presentation of risk and benefit information.

While these results may not be all that surprising, the subtleties they highlight could have a profound impact on your marketing strategies. If you’re not the #1 prescribed drug, can your efficacy data carry more weight? How will the FDA use their knowledge of adolescent risk perception to better target e-cigarette abuse in teenagers? We look forward to seeing how these results and future research impact OPDP direction.

To learn more about these studies and other research currently being conducted by OPDP, head on over to the the FDA website.


1. Mitra, A, Swasy, J, Aikin, K. How do consumers interpret market leadership claims in direct-to-consumer advertising of prescription drugs? Adv Consumer Res. 2006;33:381-387.

2. Schwartz, LM, Woloshin, S, Welch, HG. Using a drug facts box to communicate drug benefits and harms: two randomized trials. Ann Int Med. 2009;150:516-527.

3. Forthcoming: Aikin, K.J., Betts, K.R., Ziemer, K.S., & Keisler, A. (in press). Consumer tradeoff of “#1 Prescribed” advertising claim versus efficacy information in direct-to-consumer prescription drug ads. Research in Social and Administrative Pharmacy.