Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Rome didn’t fall in a day; it took the pills much longer to take effect

Back in the day (that would be college), a buddy and I took notice of the tendency for people to “take their medicine” whenever something didn’t feel right. Their medicine was typically a pill:

Take a pill!
Achy? Weak? Take a pill! Hot? Cold? Take a pill! Lethargic? Hyper? Too fat? Too skinny? Take a pill! Sad? Frustrated? Foggy mind? Racing mind? Dark thoughts? Stupid thoughts? Anxious thoughts? No thoughts? Take a pill!

We had many other lines, and I swear, the pharmaceutical industry stole some of them and developed actual pills to cure the ills.

In my previous post, I lamented the expansion of the pharmaceutical industry, its intrusion into all aspects of our existence, and the aggressive advertising of drugs for all kinds of medical, health, and quality of life issues. I closed the post asking a bunch of questions about the responsibilities of all of the players. I will now attempt to briefly discuss these questions.

The Pharmaceutical Manufacturer
I am disgusted and appalled by the number of pharmaceutical advertisements running on television. I could go on a rant on how insidious they are and how many lack originality or creativity, but that is an issue for another post. My concern is with the legitimacy of some of the elixirs being promoted and the responsibilities of the pharmaceutical manufacturers that produce potions and pills for obscure or new syndromes or disorders. 
A few pharmaceutical companies are modern day carpetbaggers. They've “discovered” afflictions, intimate it affects many of us, and lo and behold, they have the only treatment; or they sensationalize a very obscure malady - obscure because it affects 1 in every 10M humans, which equates to about 600 people in the entire human race - and their patented formula, relieves the symptoms and allows you to lead a more normal life. Oh yea, right.

Pharmaceutical manufacturers have a civic, moral and ethical responsibility to assure us that profit never trumps public health.

The Advertising Agency
Advertising agencies have a significant responsibility as the messengers for their client’s goods because they have insight into the client’s secrets. To me, they are a gatekeeper for the public welfare. Is the syndrome or affliction real and prevalent? Is the disclaimer long and the potential side effects so disturbing you wouldn’t give the medicine to your mother in-law? Is this a drug that previously treated a different affliction that’s apparently been repositioned for financial gain (as opposed to the public good)? These are just three of the many questions advertising agencies should ask themselves about the drugs in their portfolio. If the account and creative team struggle to find the value proposition and key differentiators; if they spin their wheels developing a compelling script; if they need a speed talker to rip out the warning statement, alarms should go off. And the agency should consider if their relationship with their client is more valuable to them than the well-being of society at large.

The Physician Community
Physicians also need to look at their relationship with the pharmaceutical industry. They must be above reproach. Serving as the pimp for a specific drug or company is unacceptable. Many patients simply trust doctors.  It is incumbent upon physicians to know the drug intimately, understand all potential side effects, contraindications, its competitor's drugs, generics and so on, and provide the patient options ~ including some that don’t involve medicines, when possible.

The Government
Our government certainly has a role here. It's clear industry self-policing is a fallacy. It is not a coincidence that pharmaceutical industry spending on advertising has grown exponentially since 1997, the year the government removed regulations on pharmaceutical advertising. That alone should incite elected officials to revisit the decision to deregulate. Our fearless leaders must be the people's advocate and not bow to lobbying or threats to support opponents or withhold campaign contributions in upcoming elections. There’s simply too much at stake.

The Buying Public
Too many people seek a quick-fix. A magic pill. Few want to put in the effort to realize the reward. It's the same mindset that makes lotteries, casinos, frivolous lawsuits and entitlement programs so popular. But with the Internet only a click away, the public has immediate access to incredible volumes of information from qualified sources. The public should be better able to discern the legitimacy of a remedy, or at least take the initiative to research the syndrome or disorder and the proposed drug, prior to seeking a prescription or making a purchase.

I recognize I’ve only scratched the surface here, but to adequately examine the issue and flesh out the arguments would require a dissertation. This is a blog, and this post is already too long.

In summary, we all need to hold each other accountable. The drug companies can’t make money unless we buy their products. We mustn’t be duped into believing every little affliction or ailment requires a pill or vial. Sometimes, we need to examine if a lifestyle change, and a little exercise, will make us feel better. Such a course will take time. After all, Rome didn’t fall in a day.

What are your thoughts? Do you have any concerns with the actions and advertisements of some members of the pharmaceutical industry? Do you agree with my sentiments? Or do you think I need to take a chill pill?

Monday, November 2, 2009

Pharmaceutical manufacturer develops treatment for wild hair syndrome

Of course advertising works. The proof is in the glut of commercials on television for pharmaceutical drugs. Considering the immense cash expended in research and development, and the rigor involved in testing drugs, one has to assume pharmaceutical manufacturers do their homework when it comes to advertising. They know their customer. They know when, where and how to reach them. They know advertising pays huge dividends.

But at what expense to humankind?

Look at what has happened to our society. We put substances into our body to treat all sorts of discomforts and dislikes. Don't get me wrong, I'm all for relieving pain and correcting physical maladies and chemical imbalances that affect quality of life. But I question what we are trying to do when we take prescribed and OTC medications for every little twinge, ache, discomfort, imperfection and shortcoming.

For a certain portion of our population, it’s the path of least resistance. It takes absolutely no effort to pop a pill instead of getting on a treadmill or following a prescribed diet, lifestyle change, physical therapy or rehab regimen.

Pharmaceutical manufacturers recognize this is an exceptionally lucrative market and they are being very creative in developing remedies with appealing names for all kinds of medical, quality of life and vanity issues. Some are now described as a syndrome or disorder that also bears a creative name (such as the fictitious syndrome in this post’s title) that was probably assigned by a savvy marketer or a professional naming/branding firm. The medical community and the public didn’t know of this syndrome or disorder until we heard it described in a TV or radio commercial, or read about it in an advertisement.  In some cases, a close examination of the name of the “condition” by a thinking person would have him or her scratching his or her head thinking “What? Seriously?”

Unfortunately, the public is buying, regardless of the legitimacy of the syndrome or disorder, or the necessity of any kind of treatment.

What may be worse is how drugs have become the base for superficial gain.

Perfectly healthy people inject, swallow or smear to artificially enhance so they can look or perform better. It's superficial, vain and perhaps a bit reckless. Sometimes, the drug provides short-term results, but what about the long-term consequences? Many will discover them as health issues begin to arise in the ensuing years. With luck, if any delayed side effects arise, they will be minor. But that’s a bit like Russian roulette, isn’t it?

What is the pharmaceutical industry's responsibilities here? What about the advertising agencies? How are they culpable? How about the physician community? Is the federal government being vigilant enough in reviewing the efficacy of new drugs and the claims manufacturer’s publish? How closely do they review the data? And what about the consumer? How is he or she accountable for what is prescribed or voluntarily injected or ingested for medical, quality of life or vanity purposes?

I will attempt to answer these questions, keeping in mind this is an advertising blog, in upcoming posts.