Purpose – This paper aims to investigate older consumers’ perceptions of the effects of direct-to-consumer advertising (DTCA), their views on the amount and type of information that should be provided, and their understanding of information typically contained.
Design/methodology/approach – Participants were 97 adult members of a social/education group, aged 55 to 87, who completed a questionnaire during the group’s usual weekly meeting. There were four versions of the questionnaire; two types of medication (arthritis versus diabetes) and two ad formats (short versus long).
Findings – There was little difference between the versions in the accuracy of participants’ recall of key pieces of information, suggesting that providing additional information may convey little additional benefit. Participants reported limited perceived benefits of DTCA, and expressed concern that DTCA may cause people to ask their doctor for inappropriate medicines, rely more on medicines to solve their health, and become more confused.
Practical implications – This study suggests that there is a need to consider consumers’ perceptions of benefits and costs of DTCA when deciding whether to introduce it (e.g. in Australia) or remove it (e.g. New Zealand). Further, at least for older consumers, providing large quantities of information may increase cognitive demands without producing additional benefits.
Originality/value – The majority of previous studies of DTCA have used either student samples (with manipulated salience of information) or general population surveys. This study utilised a sample of older adults, including 55 per cent with arthritis and 13 per cent with diabetes. Further, as this study used US ads with an Australian population, one can be confident that participants’ knowledge of the medications was purely from the ads read and not from previous exposure.