Beware of Warnings in Drug Ads; They May Make You Buy It Anyway

You know all those side effects you hear rushing by you, "cancer may occur," "may make you lose feeling in your arms and legs," "call your doctor if your erection doesn't go away in four hours," when drugs are advertised on TV?

It's a funny thing but a new study has found that those very warnings may induce people to try the drugs. 

According to medicalnewtoday.com, "Drug commercials that warn consumers about serious side effects may actually encourage them to make a purchase after a period of time rather than scare them away," the journal Psychological Science has reported.

"We were struck by just how detailed, clear and scary many warnings had become with regard to potential negative side effects of products," medicalnewstoday. quotes Ziv Carmon of INSEAD Business School and study author. "It then occurred to us that such warnings might perversely boost rather than detract from the appeal of the risky product."

In one experiment, medicalnewstoday.com reports, smokers were shown a commercial for a brand of cigarettes. Some smokers were shown an advertisement with a warning that smoking causes lung cancer, heart disease and emphysema, while others viewed an advertisement without a health warning. The smokers were allowed to go out and buy cigarettes immediately after seeing the ad but they bought less, according to the Web site. 

However, when the smokers who saw the warning went to buy cigarettes a few days later, they bought more, compared to the ones who had not seen the warning.

Researchers put it down to "psychological difference" -- the delay between seeing the warning and then making the decision a few days later made it all seem "abstract," and they saw the cigarette company's warning as showing they were "trustworthy and honest."

Additionally, when the participants were told that certain drugs for erectile dysfunction and hair loss had potentially serious side effects, they favored them more, classing them as more trustworthy once they were told the products were yet to reach the shelves. 

And it's not just drugs.  People make decisions to buy with these types of warnings in commercials on everything from medical treatments to sports and even financial investments, all the time.

"This effect may fly under the radar since people who try to protect the public - regulatory agencies, for example - tend to test the impact of a warning shortly after consumers are exposed to it. By doing so, they miss out on this worrisome delayed outcome," the researchers said in the article.

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