A new study based on marketing theory has suggested that advertising makes drugs seem attractive, even if they aren't necessarily the best choice for the person concerned - at least in case of antidepressants.
The study showed that antidepressants fit in the category of goods like washing powder, where there is little difference between rival products, advertising simply raises awareness of a particular product or brand.
According to marketing theory, each type of advertisement has a distinctive impact on a product's demand curve, which describes how sales of a product vary with price, reports New Scientist.
Chad Meyerhoefer and Samuel Zuvekas, at the US government's Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality in Rockville, Maryland, examined data on antidepressant ads and sales between 1996 and 2003.
They found that antidepressant advertisements skewed the demand curve in the same way as washing-powder ads.
The US and New Zealand are the only two countries that allow prescription drugs to be promoted directly to patients.
According to researchers, antidepressant advertising in those countries should be supplemented by more detailed health information.
However, they also said that ads, which simply raise awareness, could be good for patients in some cases.
Pharmaceutical companies point out that depression is under-treated in the US, so just mentioning the condition could be beneficial.