70% of consumers in 11 countries say they would prefer to take a drug that has been around for a while, rather than one which is the latest in its field, even though 50% believe that medicines today are more effective than they were five years ago.

The root cause of this discovery, that “tried-and-true is better than latest-and-greatest,” is likely to be the frequently negative “media swirl” surrounding the industry and its products, coupled with increasing distrust in authorities and institutions around the world, says the study, which is produced by advertising agency DDB Worldwide and entitled Health is the New Wealth. The finding is also in conflict with the pharmaceutical industry’s mission to discover and provide breakthrough therapies, it adds.

Moreover, the research found that 54% of consumers across the 11 nations prefer generic drugs to branded medicines, and not only for reasons of economy – generics are on the market longer than branded drugs and therefore possess greater familiarity and acceptance, says the report. However, it also found that branded drugs are preferred in Mexico, Brazil, India and Singapore – countries which, it notes, “are classically markets where brands matter even outside pharma.”

People will do almost anything to avoid taking medication, at least until it is absolutely necessary, the survey reveals. The need for medicine signals failure; people feel it means “I have been bad” or “my body is failing me,” and also, while they want to believe in modern science, the source of that science is not always trusted, it says.

However, across most countries, and despite their concerns about the industry, 67% of consumers believe that the benefits of most medicines are greater than the side effects they may cause, and 77% say that, in the main, the existence of modern medicines has improved society. Also, people generally regard medicine as something that makes them feel healthy, except in China and Singapore, where consumers believe it makes a person old. Given the widespread use of traditional and natural remedies in these two countries, perhaps these people perceive western medicine as something for the elderly or the seriously ill, the report suggests.

After people come to accept they need medication, what they then crave is to gain understanding and, more than ever, the doctor is seen as the “safe haven.” An overwhelming 75% of consumers told the study that they trust their doctor’s assessment of a drug over the information dissemination in traditional media.

However, the power of the media, communities and personal networks cannot be discounted, as they are usually the prompts for consumers to conduct their own research. Personal networks, which not only include influencers such as family and friends but also physicians’ assistants and dieticians, are described in the report as “shadow networks,” and are the second most-trusted source of information on medicines worldwide, after doctors and nurses.

In contrast, consumers look at information from pharmaceutical companies and health care systems with a sceptical eye, says the study, which reminds its readers that drug and insurance companies “enter the game with a significant handicap – public opinion and a vested financial interest when disseminating information.”