Annals of Behavioral Medicine

, Volume 48, Issue 3, pp 311–322 | Cite as

Randomized Study of Placebo and Framing Information in Direct-to-Consumer Print Advertisements for Prescription Drugs

  • Amie C. O’DonoghueEmail author
  • Helen W. Sullivan
  • Kathryn J. Aikin
Original Article



Research suggests that quantitative information in direct-to-consumer (DTC) prescription drug ads may be helpful for consumers.


The objective was to examine the effect of adding placebo rates and framing to DTC ads.


In study 1, 2,000 Internet panel members with chronic pain participated in a randomized controlled experiment of DTC ads varying in placebo rate and framing. In study 2, 596 physicians ranked DTC ads varying in placebo rate and framing by how well they conveyed scientific information and their usefulness for patients.


In study 1, participants who viewed placebo rates were able to recall them and use them to form certain perceptions. A mixed frame led to lower placebo rate recall and perceived efficacy. In study 2, overall, physicians preferred a placebo/single frame ad.


Adding placebo rates to DTC ads may be useful for consumers. The evidence does not support using a mixed frame.

Key words

DTC advertising Placebo Mixed frame Quantitative 



The OMB Control Number for this study is 0910-0692. We would like to thank Adam Rosenblatt, M.A., of Penn Schoen Berland for his assistance with data collection and Kayla Gray of RTI International for her assistance with stimuli development. They both received compensation for their work through contracts with FDA. The study was funded by FDA, the organization at which all authors are employed.

Authors’ Statement of Conflict of Interest and Adherence to Ethical Standards

Authors O’Donoghue, Sullivan, and Aikin declare that they have no conflict of interest. All procedures, including the informed consent process, were conducted in accordance with the ethical standards of the responsible committee on human experimentation (institutional and national) and with the Helsinki Declaration of 1975, as revised in 2000.


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Copyright information

© The Society of Behavioral Medicine (outside the USA) 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Amie C. O’Donoghue
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  • Helen W. Sullivan
    • 1
  • Kathryn J. Aikin
    • 1
  1. 1.U.S. Food and Drug AdministrationSilver SpringUSA
  2. 2.U.S. Food and Drug AdministrationSilver SpringUSA

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