Ask Your Doctor. Until Then, Here’s a Word From Our Sitcom.

This is an article about drug company ads on the popular TV show Blackish. Apparently the author, a fan, feels the show has become a series of drug commercials interspersed with brief bits of a television sitcom.

He’s exaggerating, but maybe not by much.

Big Pharma ads aren’t that different than other commercials except they take a softer approach to sensitive issues. Ordinarily a drug ad begins with a portrayal of someone in distress. A possible cause is introduced. Could be something the audience is familiar with, or something new. Nowadays we often first learn of a disease or disorder from a commercial for a medication aimed at its treatment.

This isn’t as straightforward as it sounds, because disorders share symptoms. It’s why physicians spend so much time on differential diagnosis. The popular show House was all about this process.

A drug commercial is intended less to educate than to encourage the viewer to self-identify as potentially suffering from this disease. Ideally, you’d visit your doctor and suggest the diagnosis. Maybe¬† even suggest the medication. The marketing team hopes you’ll leave the office with a prescription for that med.

Hopefully, you’ll benefit. But if all goes according to plan, the pharma firm definitely benefits.

As the article notes, most developed nations prohibit TV advertising of this type. The two exceptions are New Zealand and the US. This has been a cause for concern ever since Congress opened the door to direct advertising to the patient– in effect, bypassing the physician, the traditional gatekeeper.

I recall one print ad of this type from the early 1980’s featuring college-age woman who appears in great emotional distress. She’s surrounded by thought balloons that suggest the source of her distress– problems at school, for instance, or in relationships.

But the ad didn’t stop there. Other thought balloons mentioned issues such as changing societal mores or political tension in other parts of the world.

At the time I thought, “trouble in the Middle East, so she needs a sedative?”

As they say on sports talk radio: C’mon, man…

How about turning off the news? Not checking the phone? Taking the dog for a walk?

I suspect it might be better for us in the long run. But not necessarily for Big Pharma.