Big Pharma uses ads that sow hypochondria, raise health fears and sell diseases to adults and their children.
It’s no secret that advertising works. Big Pharma wouldn’t spend over $4 billion a year on direct-to-consumer advertising if it didn’t mean massive profits.
What is more unknown is why drug ads that sow hypochondria, raise health fears and “sell” diseases are often the most common–and effective–even when the drugs themselves are of questionable safety.
The nation’s fourth most frequent drug ads in 2009 for were Cymbalta, making Eli Lilly $3.1 billion in one year, despite the antidepressant’s links to liver problems and suicide. Pfizer spent $157 million advertising Lyrica for fibromyalgia in 2009, despite the seizure pill’s links to life-threatening allergic reactions. The same year, it spent $107 million advertising the antidepressant Pristiq, even though it also had links to liver problems.
So, how does Pharma dupe us into using unsafe drugs? Today’s drug ads, targeted directly to consumers since 1999, seem like they sell diseases and often cast women, children, the elderly and mentally ill in a bad light. But a quick look at ads before direct-to-consumer advertising (DTC) in medical journals shows that drug ads have always done so. It’s just that patients didn’t used to see them.
Here are some of Pharma’s most offensive ad campaigns, then and now.
1. You’re Sicker Than You Think
When psychiatric drugs first became popular for use in the general population, in the late 1960s