Master of Mass Communication (MMC)


Mass Communication

Document Type



The purpose of the study was to determine how often and to what degree “imprecise frequency descriptors” are used in prescription drug print ads. These descriptors along with the side effects they describe were compared to their corresponding prescription medicine websites and analyzed to determine whether or not the general public is being misinformed and/or misled in terms of side effect warnings by current drug advertising. Content analysis of Direct-to-Consumer (DTC) prescription drug advertisements found in five of the top seven magazines most likely to be consumed by readers over age 65 was the method of investigation for this study. The time frame of the magazines studied, was, August 2002 to July 2003. Using SPSS and descriptive statistics, results indicated that within DTC advertising, there is a great potential to mislead. For example, all of the side effects listed in the advertisements were also listed on their corresponding drug websites. Though, in some cases, the side effects with the highest incidence percentages on the websites were not listed at all in the advertised side effect warning. Some side effects with incidence levels of over 30% on the websites were listed in the advertisements but were provided with “imprecise frequency descriptors” such as “may include” or “most common.” The difference in website and magazine side effect descriptions present a question of credibility. It appears from the discrepancy between the website side effect descriptions and magazine side effect warnings that the magazines are at best incomplete and probably misleading. Possible suggestions for correcting the situation could include mandatory guidelines for side effect warnings including the number of side effects, inclusion of percentages, font size, and placement of the side effect warning.



Document Availability at the Time of Submission

Release the entire work immediately for access worldwide.

Committee Chair

Stephen Banning