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Language as Advertising

Posted 10/6/2015

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  It always pleases me when my entries seem to have a connection from one day to the next. Yesterday, I wrote about metaphors, and today's topic is the magic of language in advertising. I guess we all know that, and surely whole industries exist around marketing and PR and branding. It may not matter much if the subject is detergent or a jacket, but it does matter with drugs.

  It seems that writers have recently discovered that adding adjectives like fast-track or breakthrough when describing new drugs greatly enhance their popularity. Again, it may not matter much if the drug is being advertised on television for some common ailment, but it just feels wrong when the target is cancer or another serious illness. When lives are at stake, shouldn't the language be clear and not misleading and not primarily targeted at sales?

Here it is: Patients Assume 'Breakthrough' Drugs Are Better

by Sarah Wickline Wallan
Staff Writer, MedPage Today
When terms like "breakthrough" and "promising" were used in
FDA press releases announcing fast-tracked medications, the public perceived the drug as far more
effective than they did when presented only with the facts about the drug, an analysis found.
In a randomized trial, 597 participants read one of five vignettes using wording, ranging from facts-only
language to more promotional language, from actual FDA press releases, and then rated the drug as much
as 24 percentage points more effective when "breakthrough" was used to describe the drug over facts-only
descriptions, according to Tamar Krishnamurti, PhD, of Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, and
As a provision of the 2012 FDA Safety and Innovation Act, drugs and devices that treat "a serious or life threateningcondition" and might be superior to available treatments can be given "breakthrough" status
and rushed to market, skipping final rigorous scientific processes. All FDA press releases that announce
the approval of these drugs or devices use the term "breakthrough" and roughly half use the term
"promising," Krishnamurti's group reported in a research letter in JAMA Internal Medicine.
"Not surprisingly, inclusion of the terms breakthrough or promising without any other change in
vignettes led to higher ratings of the drug's effectiveness and perceptions of the strength of supporting
evidence," wrote Joseph S. Ross, MD, of Yale University in New Haven, Conn., and Rita F. Redberg, MD,
of the University of California San Francisco, in an accompanying editor's note. "It is entirely reasonable
to expect that patients, as well as healthcare professionals, will similarly perceive drugs as more promising
based on this terminology."


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