Direct-to-consumer drug advertisements on network television: An exploration of quantity, frequency, and placement

Erica D. Brownfield, Jay M. Bernhardt, Jennifer L. Phan, Mark V. Williams, Ruth M. Parker

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

94 Scopus citations


Prescription and over-the-counter (OTC) drug advertisements that appear on television are among the most common forms of health communication reaching the U.S. public, but no studies to date have explored the quantity, frequency, or placement of these ads on television. We explored these questions by recording all programs and advertisements that appeared on network television in a southeastern city during a selected week in the summer of 2001 and coding each prescription and OTC drug ad for its frequency, length, and placement by time of day and television program genre. A total of 18,906 ads appeared in the 504-hour sample, including 907 OTC drug ads (4.8%) and 428 prescription (Rx) drug ads (2.3%), which together occupied about 8% of all commercial airtime. Although OTC drug ads were more common, Rx drug ads on average were significantly longer. Direct-to-consumer drug ads appeared most frequently during news programs and soap operas and during the middle-afternoon and early-evening hours. Overall, we found that direct-to-consumer drug advertisements occupy a large percentage of network television commercial advertising and, based on time and program placement, many ads may be targeted specifically at women and older viewers. Our findings suggest that Americans who watch average amounts of television may be exposed to more than 30 hours of direct-to-consumer drug advertisements each year, far surpassing their exposure to other forms of health communication.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)491-497
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of Health Communication
Issue number6
StatePublished - Nov 2004


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