PURPOSE: Online pharmacies (OPs) are recognized as a potential threat to public health. The growth of an unregulated global drugs market risks increasing the spread of counterfeit medicines which are often delivered to consumers without a medical prescription. The aim of the study was to assess the strategies of argumentation that OPs adopt in their marketing.

METHODS: A sample of 175 OPs was analyzed using the content-analysis method, and evaluated by relying on the Elaboration Likelihood Model (ELM) of persuasion.

RESULTS: Almost 80% of the sample of OPs did not ask for a medical prescription by the consumer's physician. The selling arguments used included privacy policy, economic, quality, and service issues. About one-third of the OPs did not declare any side-effects regarding the drugs offered.

CONCLUSION: Our results show that OPs advertise their products in an argumentative fashion that enhances consumers' peripheral reflection: by analogically playing with the selling of other commodities, they magnify aspects of the online trade that consumers might find convenient, but overshadow the nature and risks of the actual products they sell.

"Save 30% if you buy today". Online pharmacies and the enhancement of peripheral thinking in consumers.