The Effects of Health Evidence and Doctor’s Gender on Traditional Chinese Medicine Advertising


Testimonials and statistics are both commonly used in advertising to influence individuals’ medical decision-making (e.g., Reyna, Nelson, Han, & Dieckmann, 2009; Winterbottom, Bekker, Conner, & Mooney, 2008). While most medical advertising research exploring the role of testimonials and statistical evidence has been carried out in a Western context, such as on the purchase of prescription drugs (Frosch, Krueger, Hornik, Cronholm, & Barg, 2007; Mintzes et al., 2003) and healthcare products (Chang, 2007), little attention has been paid to the promotion of “Eastern” medical services. Therefore, this research aims to examine the effects of testimonials and statistics on people’s perception and willingness to engage in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), an alternative approach to Western medicine that is slowly gaining recognition worldwide (MacPherson, Sinclair-Lian, & Thomas, 2006).

TCM has been recognized for offering many treatments with enormous potential, and it is becoming a subject of great interest in the international research community. Contrary to Western medicine, which cures diseases with the use of compartmentalized approaches in a relatively shorter time period, TCM treatments practically last for a prolonged period due to doctor-patient communication of medical practice. Take the ways of diagnosis as an instance. In TCM, “Wang, Wen, Wen, Qie” which means looking, listening, smelling, asking, and touching are used to makes diagnosis by analyzing the patient’s pulse, posture, and feelings. By contrast, doctors in Western medicine propose a diagnosis by examining the body fluids and tissues to compare it to a normal range and will also utilize modern scientific instruments to check on the human body and estimates what is the problem. In this regard, TCM places greater demands on patients’ consultation and interaction with doctors and thus TCM advertising often includes therapeutic claims about treatments and health services as well as the portrayal of doctors, such as doctors’ gender, educational experience, and specialization.

Data were collected from an experiment embedded in an online survey (N = 279) in Hong Kong in March 2019 with a 3 (health evidence for therapeutic effects: testimonial vs. statistics vs. none) by 2 (doctor’s gender: male vs. female) experimental design. Each participant was required to read a TCM advertisement and answer questions related to his or her perceived message usefulness, perceived trustworthiness of the TCM doctor, and attitudes and behavioral intentions toward TCM. This research also explored the interactive effects of (1) evidence of therapeutic effects and (2) doctors’ gender on TCM promotion. Results show that testimonial evidence is more effective than statistical evidence in facilitating doctors’ trustworthiness and people’s positive attitudes and intentions regarding TCM. Furthermore, the effect of testimonials on perceived message usefulness is stronger for participants exposed to advertisements with images of a male doctor than with a female doctor. These findings suggest that carefully chosen, objective testimonial evidence is integral to TCM advertising and contributes toward improving the audience’s message perception as well as attitudes and intentions towards TCM as part of personal healthcare regimens. In addition, portraying Chinese medicinal doctors in advertisements as professionals may be convincing for potential patients.