Profits and perspectives: advertising, social marketing, and public health

Michael Mackert (Department of Advertising, The University of Texas at Austin, Austin, Texas, USA)
Brad Love (Department of Advertising, The University of Texas at Austin, Austin, Texas, USA)

Journal of Social Marketing

ISSN: 2042-6763

Publication date: 11 October 2011



The purpose of this paper is to highlight the potential value that direct‐to‐consumer (DTC) prescription drug advertisements can provide to social marketers as examples of effective persuasive health communication.


Modern medicine increasingly incorporates media sources such as DTC prescription drug advertising. While DTC advertising presents concerns, it also offers opportunities for studying effective message design to promote health behavior change. The DTC advertising debate is vigorous, with some critics maintaining advertisements cannot be educational – but the field of social marketing utilizes similar tactics and a consumer‐driven marketing perspective to promote preventive health behavior and health behavior change.


One of the most prominent criticisms of DTC advertising is use of emotional appeals, but a variety of national public health campaigns engage in parallel tactics – employing emotional appeals over “pure” health education. While DTC advertising engenders valid criticism, it is crucial to not let the profit motive behind these campaigns preclude social marketers from learning important lessons from DTC advertisements.


The paper highlights the fact that DTC drug advertising could provide useful lessons to social marketers which some academics may be slow to embrace – the profit motive driving these campaigns may obscure the benefits to be gained from studying DTC drug advertising as a model of effective persuasive health communication. It serves as a reminder that even those who might object to the policy and practice of DTC drug advertising may still learn beneficial lessons from these campaigns.



Mackert, M. and Love, B. (2011), "Profits and perspectives: advertising, social marketing, and public health", Journal of Social Marketing, Vol. 1 No. 3, pp. 240-246.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2011, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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