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Celebrity-endorsed drug ads don’t work, says research

Published on 21/08/14 at 08:58am
Paula Deen image
Novo Nordisk hired celebrity chef Paula Deen, who has type 2 diabetes and takes to promoting Victoza

New research reveals the US system of using celebrity-endorsed drug adverts offer treatments more credibility but not influence when it comes to prescribing.

With an increasing number of stars appearing in drug and disease-specific adverts in the US, including American actress Brooke Shields and singer Jessica Simpson, do consumers really trust those who make money from endorsing prescription-drugs? 

This is a question posed in the International Journal of Pharmaceutical and Healthcare Marketing, which found that it is the personal relevance of the adverts and not the celebrity selling them that has an impact on what consumers actually buy. 

In the study: ‘Impact of celebrity endorsements in disease-specific direct-to-consumer (DTC) advertisements’, respondents were randomly shown a fictitious print advert for a website offering depression advice.

In the study one group where shown either an image of actor Harrison Ford or actress Ashley Judd (both who have made public their issues with depression),

 while in the other group people where shown images that reflected the age and sex of the two celebrities – but changed their faces enough to make them look different, and were therefore not recognised as a celebrity.

The researchers found that the majority of respondents went against recent research and viewed the celebrities within the ads as significantly more credible, but this did not reflect in their consumer behaviour. 

The study also found that it is the level of personal relevance to the advert which is the primary differentiating factor in consumer response – and the effect of the celebrity in the advert was independent of this factor. 

This suggests the presence of a celebrity endorser has negligible impact on consumers, according to the authors.

Professor Brent Rollins, of the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine (PCOM) and joint author of the study, says: “This research demonstrates that even if consumers deem the celebrity as more credible and pay significantly greater attention to the ad, it does not change the desire to act and search for more information, discuss the disease with their doctor or ask for a prescription.” 

With the internet now the number one choice among respondents seeking information on depression, Rollins adds: “Moving forward, pharmaceutical marketers must learn to harness and maximise the internet’s potential, including the use of disease education-focussed websites and trend toward personalisation in all forms of marketing.”

The use of DTC advertising in the US means that adverts for prescription medicines can appear on television, radio and print media, something that is outlawed in Europe and the UK.

Over the past 20 years the use of celebrity endorsements for medicines has grown, ranging from singer Jon Bon Jovi plugging Pfizer’s over-the-counter pain drug Advil – and the decision from Novo Nordisk to hire controversial celebrity chef Paula Deen, who has type 2 diabetes and takes its Victoza medicine.

Pharma believes such endorsement often will produce a return on investment as it does with consumer goods; but this latest research may suggest otherwise.

Ben Adams 

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