So, the kid and her friends are sitting around the other night watching TV; lots of squealing and yakking as usual. Suddenly there’s silence, so I peak around the corner to see what’s going on. Silence is never good.
They’re all glued to the TV watching the commercial! The ad shows a lot of teenaged girls giggling, being cool, looking cool, doing cool stuff like flipping their hair around and rubbing shoulders with boys. The girls are all whispering, “Yasmin”.
What or who is Yasmin? Is it a new pop singer? A new TV show? Some kind of clothing line, food, technology?
The ad is alluring and mysterious. The girls watching the ad need to know what Yasmin is. The ad ends with a seductive voice saying, “ask your doctor about Yasmin.”
They more or less lose interest, but I still want to know what they’re trying to lure my kid with now. I go google Yasmin. It’s a new birth control pill. I think to myself, “fuuuuuuck”
The advertising of prescription drugs aimed directly at the public (aptly called Direct-to-Consumer-Advertising or DTCA) is prohibited in all developed countries except the US and New Zealand. In Canada pharma companies can advertise the name of a product or say what it treats; but not both at the same time.
So, we are treated to a whole host of mysterious ads that hint at a vast array of horrible diseases and illnesses that may be afflicting us and for which, thankfully, an attractive new product is available. Or, they try to convince us how much more fun life would be with drugs like Yasmin or Viagra. Forget about side-effects, contraindications, overall health – go ask your doctor to give you this fabulous drug.
If you’re a smart-ass, you may be thinking “Why did my doctor go to medical school, if I have to get my important health information from TV ads? Why do I have to tell him what drug I need? Who does this?”
You might scoff, but this advertising works and is generating kajillions of dollars for the pharma industry. Doctors report twice as many people asking for specific (more expensive, brand-name) drugs. Patients are coming in quoting TV commercials. They get upset if the doctor says, no. Shockingly, 75% of the time, the doctor gives them what they ask for.
Part and parcel of DTCA is something the PR business calls Disease Mongering. Pharma companies call “medical education. Pharma companies convince consumers through advertising that their ordinary ailments require pharmaceutical intervention: e.g.: baldness, sweating, impotence, blushing, or my personal favorite – the ad where a sympathetic voice asks if you get up during the night to pee and if so, you have “overactive bladder” and need this new drug to relax your crazy-assed bladder.
Pharma companies want Health Canada to lift drug advertising restrictions so they can sell more drugs directly to people instead of to doctors. Health Canada is under a lot of pressure to cave.