Blame the drugs

I may define myself as a writer and a journalist, but I consider myself an armchair advertising executive. No, not because of Mad Men, but because I find advertising and media really fascinating.

And one particular type of advertising is especially fascinating: the ads for prescription drugs.

It’s been 14 years since direct-to-consumer advertising of prescription medication became legal in this country. It’s undoubtedly changed how patients become aware of medications, as well as how doctors prescribe them.

And also? It’s made for some very, very odd commercials.

At first, it was easy to make lighthearted fun of some of these commercials. The list of “side effects” was often longer than the list of benefits. And it was hard to focus on benefits when, say, “fecal urgency” is listed as a side effect.

I didn’t think much of them at first, but I have to say: I’ve become increasingly creeped out by the commercials I see on TV.

First: Have you noticed that many of the ads don’t actually feature identifiable people? That’s kinda, sorta, very creepy. There’s talking human silhouettes without faces. Cartoon characters galore. The walking water pipes in that commercial about urination. (It creeps me out so much I don’t know if it’s for people who can’t pee or people who pee too much.)

I mean, anti-depression is represented by….a bouncing orb? A cloud? Don’t think complicated thoughts, folks, just pick up the Happy Bubble!

But the newest commercials are the ones that really concern me. The worst has been a series of commercials for a drug called Niaspan, which is intended to reduce cholesterol and other plaque in arteries.

Why am I wiggy about this ad? Because it’s sounding a lot like the subject of the ad is shaming their loved one into taking it. As if someone with (a) basic common sense and (b) a prescription from their doctor wouldn’t be taking said drug, anyway, on the recommendation of their physician.

NOTE: When I started to compose this post, I hadn’t found the YouTube posting. Clearly, I’m not the only one creeped out by this ad.

We know the topic of medical care and reform is a very touchy subject in this country. But it makes me sad that these companies are marketing these drugs like they market Captain Crunch….or worse yet, trying to build on fear and shame to get someone to pay attention to their pitches.

Say what you want about Sally Field and her Boniva, but at least she’s a person with a face who actually takes the drug she’s talking about. Those commercials may seem cheeseball with their “one body and one life” tag line, but beyond that, the ad is actually doing its job: defining its purpose and the intended audience. Not much to ask for, is it?

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