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Marketing of medicines in primary care: an analysis of direct marketing mailings and advertisements.

Dankers, M., Verlegh, P., Weber, K., Nelissen-Vrancken, M., Dijk, L. van, Mantel-Teeuwisse, A. Marketing of medicines in primary care: an analysis of direct marketing mailings and advertisements. PLoS One: 2023, 18(8), p. Art. nr. e0290603.
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Marketing materials from pharmaceutical companies attempt to create a positive image of marketed, often new, medicines. To gain more insight in strategies pharmaceutical companies use to influence primary care practitioners' attitudes towards marketed medicines, we investigated the use of persuasion strategies in direct marketing mailings and advertisements from pharmaceutical companies sent to general practitioners.

General practitioners in the Netherlands were recruited to collect all direct marketing mailings, meaning all leaflets, letters and other information sent by pharmaceutical industries to the practice during one month (June 2022). Direct marketing mailings and advertisements in collected medical journals concerning medicines or diseases (together called marketing materials) were analysed according to presence of one of the seven common persuasion strategies, i.e. reciprocity, consistency/commitment, social proof, liking, authority, scarcity and unity; as well as marketed medicine and year of introduction.

Twenty general practices collected 68 unique marketing materials concerning 37 different medicines. Direct factor Xa inhibitors (n = 12), glucagon-like peptide-1 analogues (n = 5) and sodium-glucose co-transporter 2 inhibitors (n = 4) were the most frequently marketed medicines. The median year of introduction of all marketed medicines was 2012. All seven persuasion strategies were identified, with liking (64.7% of all materials) and authority (29.4%) as most prominent strategies, followed by social proof (17.6%), unity (14.7%), scarcity (13.2%), reciprocity (11.8%) and consistency/commitment (2.9%). In addition to those strategies, we identified emotional pressure (30.9%) as one commonly used new strategy.

Marketing materials sent to general practices use a wide range of persuasion strategies in an attempt to influence prescription behaviour. Primary care practitioners should be aware of these mechanisms through which pharmaceutical companies try to influence their attitudes towards new medicines.