Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Mass Communication

Document Type



By unraveling the intricately powerful influences of pharmaceutical funding, this project examines ways in which product marketing infiltrates and contaminates public awareness efforts in the healthcare industry. Specifically, the following work deconstructs ways in which Merck Pharmaceuticals & Co. crafted a product endorsement through social marketing and nationwide lobbying efforts to most efficiently profit from the company’s Gardasil vaccination. Through means of textual analysis, interviews, focus groups, and eyetracking experimentation, I use Merck’s product endorsement efforts to illuminate the complex dynamics muddling direct-to-consumer marketing and social marketing campaigns. Social cognitive theory (SCT) offers a strong supportive foundation from which to dissect viewer healthcare message processing. In conjunction with the behaviorally-oriented cannons of SCT, social trust theory and contemporary marketing scholarship further highlight the complicated ties uniting public policy, corporatized health-marketing operations, audience cognitions, and consumer behavior. By piecing together the various ways in which Merck Pharmaceuticals puppeteered public understanding of HPV and cervical cancer, this work encourages greater awareness for the corporate influence and political agendas that work hand in hand in delivering meaning to American reality. Results indicate viewer awareness of brand markings in Merck’s HPV social marketing campaign limit message effectiveness and negatively influence consumer trust. As such, my grounded analysis conceptualizes “unconscious awareness” as it relates to branded health communication. Emergent findings showcase broader societal implications by unveiling patterns of conditioned ambivalence toward commercialized messaging. This project speaks to the capitalized communications contaminating consumer trust and public health, and presents an argument for regulation realignment in the healthcare industry. Given the sensitive nature of public health message processing, and in light of the findings collected throughout this work, my multi-layered analysis petitions for regulatory guidelines which separately address and more clearly define executional protocols for social awareness efforts and direct-to-consumer marketing operations.



Document Availability at the Time of Submission

Release the entire work immediately for access worldwide.

Committee Chair

Porter, Lance