FDA to study how Instagram influencers sway perceptions of prescription drugs

Andrea Park - Print  | 

Two FDA-led studies will explore how pharmaceutical endorsements from celebrities and internet influencers compare to those from non-famous physicians and patients in persuading recipients to purchase medication, the Regulatory Affairs Professionals Society reports.

As detailed in a submission to the Federal Register, the first study will task 654 participants with examining print ads for a fictitious acne-treating medication. The ads will be associated with stock photos of physicians or patients, or with an actual celebrity (not named in the proposal) who has previously spoken publicly about acne. The ads will also vary in whether they include a payment disclosure, such as "[Endorser] has been paid to appear in this ad for Drug X."

In the second study, about 700 followers of a popular online influencer (also unnamed) who has previously posted on Instagram about endometriosis will be shown ads for a fictitious endometriosis drug, associated with either the influencer or a stock photo of a patient. The payment disclosure will again vary, with three options: a direct disclosure, such as "Paid ad"; an indirect disclosure, such as "#sp," to indicate sponsored content; or no disclosure at all.

After examining the endorsements, participants in both studies will fill out an online survey. "In both studies, we are interested in the role of endorsement and payment status on participants' recall, benefit and risk perceptions, and behavioral intentions," such as asking a physician about the medication, according to the FDA's proposal.

The FDA has previously issued warnings to celebrities who have posted about pharmaceutical products on social media without explicitly disclosing whether the endorsement was sponsored. For example, in 2015, RAPS notes, Kim Kardashian West received a warning letter over an Instagram post promoting the morning sickness drug Diclegis without revealing that it was a paid advertisement.

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