Cancer Centers Rely on Emotion Not Information in Advertising


A new study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine illuminates how cancer centers rely on emotion rather than information in their advertising.

A research team conposed largely of scientists from the University of Pittsburgh has analyzed data from Kantar Media on 409 unique clinical service advertisements placed by 102 cancer centers in 2012 and found that their ads "evoke hope and fear while rarely providing information about risks, benefits, costs or insurance availability."

Of the 102 cancer centers, 87 advertised on TV, 28 advertised in magazines, and 13 advertised in both mediums. Meanwhile, 57 percent of the ads mentioned cancer type but just nine percent mentioned cancer stage.

Other key findings:

  • - Advertisements promoted treatment (88%) more often than they promoted screening (18%), supportive services (13%) or palliative care (2%)
  • - Despite this emphasis on treatment, half weren't specific about treatment options, and less than two percent mentioned alternatives to specific advertised treatment services
  • - The benefits of therapy were mentioned in 27 percent of all ads; but only two percent quantified those benefits, less than 2 percent mentioned the risks, and five percent mentioned costs or coverage of the advertised treatments. No advertisements quantified risks.
  • - Emotional appeals occurred frequently (85 percent of ads), with 61 percent evoking hope for survival, 41 percent describing cancer in war or battle language, and 30 percent induced fear.
  • - Patient testimonials were found in almost one half of all ads, and those usually focused on survival. They rarely included disclaimers (only 15 percent), and they never described the results of a typical patient.
  • - Among ads that appealed to emotion, patient-centered care was mentioned 43 percent of the time, followed by individualized care (31 percent), comfort or quality of life (26 percent) and shared decision-making (6 percent).
  • - NCI-designated cancer centers were responsible for 16 percent of the advertisemets. Those ads more frequently mentioned costs or coverage of services (12 percent vs. 3 percent) and more often contained survival-related emotional appeals (91 percent vs. 83 percent) than those ads placed by non-NCI–designated cancer centers.
  • "Given the inherently frightening nature of cancer, it may be impossible for cancer centers to advertise without affecting viewers’ emotions to some degree,” the researchers concluded. “However, clinical advertisements that use emotional appeal uncoupled with information about indications, benefits, risks or alternatives may lead patients to pursue care that is either unnecessary or unsupported by scientific evidence."

    Source: Ann Intern Med / HemOnc today


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