The rise of Direct to Consumer advertising of perscription drugs
October 10, 2014 12:10 PM   Subscribe

There are various changes that come with the greying of the traditional television audience, including the kinds of ads being aired, as the median age of a broadcast or cable television viewer is increasing faster than the median age of the US population at large. Older people are treated to a litany of drug ads, filled with lists of horrifying side effects, thanks to the ability for drug companies to market directly to customers. The rise in such advertising is now the most prominent type of health communication that the public encounters, but it hasn't always been the case.
posted by filthy light thief (41 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
 
Penis pills on every commercial break during sports. I yearn for the days of "Wasssssssssssssssssssssssssssssup?!"
posted by Drinky Die at 12:14 PM on October 10, 2014 [6 favorites]


I think it foments a hypochondriac, fear-obsessed culture. An increase in direct-to-consumer prescription advertisements, paired with the influx of resources to search for and consume information? That's a recipe for disaster, plain and simple.

It's not surprising, though. Everybody knows Big Pharm is in bed with every other Big.

Big Pharm is like, the slut of the collusion ring...
posted by ourt at 12:18 PM on October 10, 2014 [1 favorite]


Television advertising was one of the things I thought was really weird when I arrived to this country 20 years ago. Back in the Netherlands, TV ads were mostly cleaning products, and feminine hygiene products. Here in America, it was cars and prescription drugs.
posted by monospace at 12:19 PM on October 10, 2014 [2 favorites]


Ah yes, the "indicated" ad. This classic Slate piece discusses them. If you are advertising to consumers (rather than doctors) and you say what the drug does, you have to include side-effects information -- that's an "indicated" ad. If, on the other hand, the ad doesn't "indicate" what the drug does, you don't have to talk about any of the nasty side-effects.

The Slate article is about the then-famous ad for Levitra which showed a guy throwing a football through a tire swing. The company insisted there was no way the audience would know it was an ad for erectile disfunction pills. Fellini would be proud. Or, probably ashamed actually.
posted by The Bellman at 12:21 PM on October 10, 2014 [10 favorites]


I could be wrong, but I think this focus on the elderly has leaked into political ads, too. From the limited television ads I've seen (usually during the evening news), there's a lot of focus on what the opponent will be doing for/to the elderly by way of medicaid or other social support systems, featuring a lot of sad-looking elderly individuals as stock footage for voice-overs and vague facts.


Back in the Netherlands, TV ads were mostly cleaning products, and feminine hygiene products. Here in America, it was cars and drugs.

As mentioned in the last link, at least as of 2008, only the US and New Zealand even allow direct to consumer drug ads. Elsewhere, it's directed solely at the doctors who could prescribe such drugs to their patients. Because this system provides for a more informed, healthier public, right?
posted by filthy light thief at 12:22 PM on October 10, 2014 [2 favorites]


its nothing but the shiny new pills for me and what ails me.
posted by Fupped Duck at 12:22 PM on October 10, 2014


And yet they cancelled Longmire despite it being the network's top rated drama because it appealed primarily to olds.
posted by srboisvert at 12:31 PM on October 10, 2014 [3 favorites]


The elderly have been a target of political ads for a long time since they show up the polls so reliably. Targeting women is the new hotness.
posted by Drinky Die at 12:32 PM on October 10, 2014 [1 favorite]


I could be wrong, but I think this focus on the elderly has leaked into political ads, too. From the limited television ads I've seen (usually during the evening news), there's a lot of focus on what the opponent will be doing for/to the elderly by way of medicaid or other social support systems, featuring a lot of sad-looking elderly individuals as stock footage for voice-overs and vague facts.

There's a coal/energy industry ad currently running here in Indiana, exhorting Hoosiers to contact the EPA and demand they kill proposed emissions rules for coal-fired power plants. The ads declare that, if the rules go into effect, your rates *WILL* go up. No equivocation. No "might" or "could". Big coal is saying up-front that they will definitely raise rates. The images are of a gray-haired retired couple, turning down the thermostat, pointing angrily at a bill, etc. Then they walk down the street of their little midwestern neighborhood hand-in-hand. Probably to go climb in their his-and-hers Cialis bathtubs.
posted by Thorzdad at 12:33 PM on October 10, 2014


Those ads with the side effects are brilliant, I think. If it just makes people research their prescriptions before blindly taking whatever the patent medicine men are selling, then yay!
posted by dejah420 at 12:34 PM on October 10, 2014 [1 favorite]


this is one of the most evil things that ever happened in the history of american television. look at all the money they're spending! imagine if it could somehow be redirected to single-payer healthcare.

i particularly like the required recitation of side-effects, usually rapid sotto voce at the end of commercials. "severe constipation, insanity and homicidal ideation in rare cases..." that's just the pill i need to be taking.
posted by bruce at 12:35 PM on October 10, 2014 [4 favorites]


I haven't seen one in a long time but the ones that still stick in my mind say roughly "side effects include headache, liver failure, eyeball dessication, navel eversion, shooting chest pains, etc. etc... and sexual side effects." Like they still have to be coy about boners or lack of them even when they're talking about boner pills.
posted by George_Spiggott at 12:37 PM on October 10, 2014 [1 favorite]


filthy light thief: As mentioned in the last link, at least as of 2008, only the US and New Zealand even allow direct to consumer drug ads.
Indeed, this FPP almost implies the Everyone-Is-An-American assumption.

The rise in such advertising is now the most prominent type of health communication that the public encounters in the US, but it hasn't always ever been the case anywhere else.
posted by IAmBroom at 12:44 PM on October 10, 2014 [4 favorites]


When Star Trek: TNG was on, all the ads were for male-pattern baldness. They know their target audiences.
posted by Melismata at 12:45 PM on October 10, 2014 [5 favorites]


What's a perscription?
posted by quonsar II: smock fishpants and the temple of foon at 12:49 PM on October 10, 2014 [2 favorites]


I've worked in the medical advertising technology space (cloud, email tracking, channel integration). They have a lot of catching up to do on the technological side in comparison to advertisers in other industries.

They're catching up very quickly and their morality extends only as far as the law requires.
posted by Revvy at 12:50 PM on October 10, 2014 [1 favorite]


What's a perscription?

erp. Maybe there's a pill for that.

Indeed, this FPP almost implies the Everyone-Is-An-American assumption.

Yes, that, too. I was going to thrown in a mention of "Only in the US and New Zealand," but clearly I didn't.
posted by filthy light thief at 12:51 PM on October 10, 2014 [1 favorite]


What's a perscription?

It's a rate measure, as in, you get 80 pills perscription.
posted by Wolfdog at 12:55 PM on October 10, 2014 [7 favorites]


Anybody else remember endless laxative and denture adhesive commercials on broadcast-TV in the 70's? Guess prescription pills were more profitable.
posted by telstar at 12:55 PM on October 10, 2014 [3 favorites]


Yes, telstar. And Geritol! Every day!
posted by Melismata at 12:56 PM on October 10, 2014


There's an add running now for people who laugh or cry inappropriately. I forget what it's called. Anyway, the ad is basically framed as "don't think these people are weirdos, they just have an illness. I bet you didn't know that, so we're trying to raise awareness of this issue!" there's a number you can call for "more information" and they slide in at the very end that it "is treatable."

Every time I see that ad I want to call for more information. Not claim that I have it or need the drug or anything, but since they're offering information, I'm kind of curious about it. What's the physiological mechanism here? HOw often does it happen? If I should ever meet a person who has this, what's the best way to respond and be supportive? I really am a curious person and I find this an interesting phenomenon. I would like to call a hotline and have an operator explain everything to me.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 1:10 PM on October 10, 2014 [5 favorites]


I would like to call a hotline and have an operator explain everything to me.

There's a pill for that, but it makes your toes fall off. YMMV.
posted by bleep at 1:12 PM on October 10, 2014 [3 favorites]


it makes your toes fall off.

There's a pill for that, but it makes your ears revolve slowly.
posted by Wolfdog at 1:14 PM on October 10, 2014 [3 favorites]


If only, I don't know exactly which drug you are talking about but it sounds like it's to do with mood congruence or inappropriate affect.
posted by fiercecupcake at 1:18 PM on October 10, 2014 [2 favorites]


There's an add running now for people who laugh or cry inappropriately. [...] What's the physiological mechanism here?

It sounds like a Scientology thing, if I had to guess.
posted by indubitable at 1:19 PM on October 10, 2014 [1 favorite]


Cigarettes

1. Proven to kill thousands and thousands of people every year.
2. Not allowed to be advertised on television because they are too dangerous.
3. Have no health benefits.
4. Legally sold without a prescription.

Prescription Drugs

1. If found to kill even a few people, will be taken off market and not allowed to be sold.
2. Advertised heavily on television.
3. Have some sort of significant health benefits.
4. Not sold without a prescription.

The law is no place for anyone who likes logic or consistency.
posted by flarbuse at 1:23 PM on October 10, 2014 [5 favorites]


Flarbuse: I think the cigarette vs. prescription thing actually makes sense. The presecription/ads are useful for making sure the drugs get to people for whom they would have benefits and not to others, and that they avoid people for whom the drugs would be especially dangerous. It also allows the tracking of unexpected adverse effects.

WIth cigarettes, there's no one who wuold benefit who you want to get these too, they're very dangerous to everybody, and all the adverse effects are expected.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 1:27 PM on October 10, 2014


Here's the commercial. Looks like they're paying for other news coverage, too.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 1:30 PM on October 10, 2014


There's an add running now for people who laugh or cry inappropriately. [...] What's the physiological mechanism here?

Pseudobulbar affect. Treated with the combination of an antitussive (dextromethorphan, of robotripping fame) and an antiarrhythmic.
posted by dephlogisticated at 1:43 PM on October 10, 2014 [4 favorites]


When Star Trek: TNG was on, all the ads were for male-pattern baldness. They know their target audiences.

My late grandmother used to watch the Statler Brothers, and every ad block had an ad for earwax removers.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 1:45 PM on October 10, 2014


Yes! "Emotional lability" was what I could not for the life of me think of.
posted by fiercecupcake at 1:55 PM on October 10, 2014


As mentioned in the last link, at least as of 2008, only the US and New Zealand even allow direct to consumer drug ads.

They're more or less de facto allowed in Canada, because the ads come through on American channels.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 1:59 PM on October 10, 2014 [2 favorites]


You have to hand it to them, though...The dick pill commercials have built into them the single greatest promotional line ever written in the history of advertising, and it's part of the medical warnings. You all know what I'm talking about...

"If you experience an erection lasting longer than four hours..."

If that isn't a sales line to end all sales lines, I don't know what is.
posted by Thorzdad at 2:39 PM on October 10, 2014 [6 favorites]


I like how they don't say anything other than "if you do, call your doctor," so you can imagine the HIGH FIVE BRO part is implied.
posted by poffin boffin at 2:46 PM on October 10, 2014 [2 favorites]


I'm old enough to remember when televised drug advertising was so vague that it was practically a piece of conceptual art...

Scene: A man and woman, apparently in their 40s, are walking on the beach, holding hands, at sunset

Announcer: "Do you have THAT problem?"

(Close up of the man's face as he looks thoughtfully out to sea)

Scene: A dog runs after a frisbee in slow motion

Announcer: "Now there's something that can help..."

Scene: A woman in her mid-20s pages through a newspaper while eating salad

Announce: "...so be sure to ask your doctor."

Scene: A grandmother, finally finishing her degree, throws her cap into the air with the rest of the graduates

FADE OUT
posted by LastOfHisKind at 3:02 PM on October 10, 2014 [21 favorites]


What freaks me out are the ads for Enbrel. This is a big-time no fun drug, as my good friend with rheumatoid arthritis has taught me. It must be injected, 4 to 8 times/month. It supresses your immune system. It costs between $1000 and $3000/month depending on how well your drug manager has dealt with the manufacturer.

Why in heaven's name is this drug being advertised on TV? It's designed for the approximately 1.3 million US citizens with rheumatoid arthritis (plus smaller numbers of related diseases).

I can only imagine that the manufacturer wants to develop a larger market, by putting the word "Enbrel" on the lips of many folks who will be visiting their doctors because of osteoarthritis. OA is not an inflammatory disease, and Enbrel won't help it.
posted by Jesse the K at 3:18 PM on October 10, 2014 [1 favorite]


I'm pretty sure you shouldn't be able to advertise a substance that has to have a warning that it can cause death or suicide. Cigarettes, and pretty much every drug advertised has this caveat.
posted by rhizome at 3:22 PM on October 10, 2014


Jesse: It's not really even designed for everyone with rhemetoid arthritis. BIologics are the drugs of last resort because their side effects are so potentially serious. My mom had rhemetoid arthritis that was uncontrolled for 6 years and went through various drug combinations and doses until they found what worked for her and still had not resorted to trying biologics yet. They're advertising it because no reasonable doctor would, unprompted, prescribe it until all other avenues had been exhausted.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 3:22 PM on October 10, 2014 [1 favorite]


I remember the first time I saw an ad for a prescription med on TV. I thought: "huh, the sponsors must think a lot of doctors are watching this show - else why would they adverstise?"
Yeah - not so much.
posted by dbmcd at 3:46 PM on October 10, 2014


"Ask your doctor about ______." That seems to be the boilerplate for all drug ads.

Back when I was a kid, I always wondered why all the "old people" ads were on the networks nightly news shows. That's the only place I ever saw laxative ads, geritol, and lots of commercials with gray-haired couples wandering through idyllic scenes.

...and yeah, I loved the ED ads when those started up...attempting to be coy and smug and vague and self-assured and macho all at the same time....
posted by CrowGoat at 4:10 PM on October 10, 2014 [1 favorite]


Complete counterpoint on Enbrel and the biologics. Enbrel has been prescribed for nearly 20 years and further and further studies have shown that some concerns about cancer have not panned out. The risk factors for infection are known and controllable. For many people with autoimmune diseases, like me, these are life changing, life restoring drugs.

But so many people have heard bad things about them through the rumor mill that many people who would greatly benefit from them with minimal risk of side effects are terrified to take them.

I share the way first Enbrel and then Humira have given me my life back every chance I get. And I'm really glad every time I see one of Phil Mickelson's Enbrel commercials. Here is a professional athlete who tried to control his psoriatic arthritis with diet and alternative medicine and thought his career was over. Once he started Enbrel, he was able to play again.

In general, I don't like tv drug ads. But the biologic drugs are life changers and I wish everyone who could benefit from them had the opportunity and the education to do so.
posted by hydropsyche at 1:09 PM on October 11, 2014


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