A Picture Is Worth A Thousand Words

Direct to Consumer Rx Marketing

Direct to Consumer Rx Marketing (Photo credit: Mike Licht, NotionsCapital.com)

We tend to shake our heads, exclaim in horror,  or laugh when we see those advertisements on television that encourage viewers to try a new drug by first toting how they will change one’s life and then warning about the potential side effects.  You know the ones: Are you depressed? Are you suffering from erectile dysfunction?  Are you unable to go outside because of allergies? Do you have trouble falling asleep at night?

We shake our heads over the fact that television allows this sort of rubbish advertising, exclaim in horror at the  audacity of the drug companies in “pushing” their wares in so blatant a fashion, or laugh at the absurdity of the potential side effects.  We wonder who in their right mind would put anything like that into their body, anyway?

Furthermore, we may wonder why, if these drug manufacturers have to state all the horrible side effects that these drugs may cause, they even bother to advertise.  But in fact, it turns out many people actually respond to these advertisements.  According to an article posted in “Visual Thesaurus”

A report by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that consumers are very responsive to the intent of this kind of advertising, and that a significant number do in fact act as prompted by the concluding suggestion in many of the commercials: “Ask your doctor if ______________ is right for you.” The report says that “nearly a third of adults say they have talked to their doctor about a drug they saw advertised, and 44% of those who talked to their doctor received a prescription for the medication they asked about. [added emphasis]  This means that 13% of Americans have received a specific prescription in response to seeing a drug ad.” The study concluded that for the period examined, each additional dollar that the pharmaceutical industry spent on direct-to-consumer advertising yielded $4.20 in additional pharmaceutical sales in that year.

The article demonstrates how advertisers subordinate the language warning viewers of the potentially dangerous side effects with pictures that actually counter the words that are being said.  We know the adage that a picture is worth a thousand words, and so the way these advertisements are presented cause our visual cues to the brain to override any aural cues.   I suppose another term that could be used is that viewers are being brainwashed into believing the purity of the drug.

The author of the article continues:

The legislation that results in this peculiar experience being available to US television viewers is broadly the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act, and more narrowly, Title 21 of Federal Regulations and a Guidance for Industry issued by the FDA and the Department of Health and Human Services in 1999. All of these documents spell out in great detail the prohibitions on various practices that a profit-seeking corporation might be tempted to engage in, but guidance about the exposition of major risks posed by these drugs is not very specific: it must be presented “either the audio or audio and visual parts of the presentation.”  ….drug manufacturers seem to have chosen the course that will showcase the benefits of their products visually, while a simultaneous audible portion presents the cautions.

Ultimately, this visual/aural dissonance goes miles to obscure the message of the dangers of these drugs.  Personally, I find the whole business of marketing, particularly pharmaceuticals, unconscionable.  And yet, because these products are presented within the vague wording of the law, the pharmaceuticals are allowed to “get away with it.”

© Yvonne Behrens  2012

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