Posted by: goalpath | November 9, 2009

When Bans on Certain Consumer Advertising Campaigns Are a Good Thing

 In the last thirty years I have worked as a product manager, marketing manager and sales manager. I even wrote a book on marketing in 2002 titled Marketing Alignment. Shameless plug number one – my book is available on Based on my background, one might think it would be improbable that I would be in favor of banning any consumer advertising and marketing.

Sure, most people understand why companies can’t advertise automatic weapons or cigarettes on television. And if you NRA members won’t to take me to task on that issue, feel free, but remember I am an advocate of the second amendment. I suspect a lot of you would be in favor of at least limiting the TV advertising of fast food late at night or sugary cereal products targeting kids in the morning. After all, thirty percent of Americans are obese.

My complaint has to do with prescription drug advertising. Congress allocates the FDA $2.4 billion to regulate our foods, drugs and cosmetics. The big pharmaceutical companies spend twice that amount each year on consumer advertising.

About six years ago Congress, in their infinite wisdom, decided that the big pharmaceutical companies were wining and dining the healthcare professionals (doctors, physician assistants, nurse practitioners, etc) in order to get them to prescribe their company’s drugs. So they passed legislation to put a halt to most of these practices. Well, the executives at the major pharmaceutical companies scratched their heads and came up with a different approach. They decided to go straight to the consumers and advertise their goods on national television. 

I am certain a great many of you would be happy if you didn’t have to witness another erectile dysfunction or enlarged prostate commercial ever again. Include me in that group. There is a movement in congress these days to try to put some limits on this advertising. Representative Henry Waxman, (D) California, would like to see the FDA  bar consumer advertising for any drugs until they have proved safe in real world use. Another democrat, James Morgan of Virginia is sponsoring a bill that would ban ads for prescription sexual aids like Viagra and Levitra during prime time on grounds of decency.

The drug makers and their proponents contend that direct to consumer ads educate the public and inform them about medical advances. Personally, I think diagnosing yourself based on a television ad is dangerous and will do more harm than good. I also believe that this television advertising is a significant contributor to the rising cost of healthcare in America. It seems to me that the big pharma companies see this as an easy way to reach the more gullible hypochondriacs out there who will take any pill they can get their hands on. I believe that healthcare reform should include some type of ban on these prescription drug ads.

Marcia Angell, a senior lecturer in social medicine at the Harvard Medical School and former editor of the New England Journal of Medicine, says, “Direct-to-consumer prescription drug advertising does exactly what it is intended to do – increase sales for drug companies. Increasingly, it does that by promoting medical conditions, as well as drugs. If the industry can convince essentially normal people that minor complaints require long-term drug treatment, its market will grow.”  She goes on to say, “The argument that ads educate consumers is self-evidently absurd. No one should look to an investor-owned company for objective, unbiased information about products it sells. Do we ask the Ford dealer whether his cars are any good?”

Still, there are those that argue that these advertisements go a long way in educating the American public about specific medical conditions and how to treat them. That would be a good argument if it were true. A study that compared the health literacy between the U.S. and Canada demonstrates the fallacy in that argument. Canada, where these ads are not allowed, has a higher health literacy than here in America where we are bombarded daily with these ads.

James P. Othmer, a former advertising creative director and author of the forthcoming book, Adland: Searching for the Meaning of Life on a Branded Planet, had this to say about prescription drug marketing, “My all-time favorite pharmaceutical ad is for something called R.L.S. (Restless Leg Syndrome) a condition whose degree of absurdity is topped only by a drug’s potential side effects: “Tell your doctor if you experience increased gambling, sexual or other urges.” Mr. Othmer went on to say, “If I had a dime for every time I heard the words “ask your doctor” or saw a crude clip of phallic imagery during a commercial break from the evening news, or was forced to contemplate a stomach-turning side effect, I’d be able to afford my own health care.”

So what is your take on this topic? Do you think these drug companies should be able to advertise freely on any medium they choose? Are you ready to contact your Senator or Congress person and tell them to ban this advertising?

If you are a Baby Boomer and haven’t joined our community,, please consider it. It is free and only takes a couple of minutes to sign up. You can share your viewpoint and voice your opinion on the critical issues facing America. And if we recruit enough of you, we can positively impact business and political policies around the country.


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