I’m organizing my day with my normal tools: laptop, notes from yesterday, a bowl of cereal, and the news on the TV. Suddenly, a commercial for a bipolar depression medication comes on. Since I have a friend with this disease, I start to listen to the ad, which, in the first 15 seconds, seemed compelling. However, the last 45 seconds was overpowered by a voiceover delivering a long list of medical warnings. If you’re a teen, you may commit suicide. If you’re elderly, it may increase your dementia. If you play golf left-handed, it may increase your slice on dogleg par 5’s.
Compulsory medical warnings on TV commercials are stupid. They are unnecessary. These warnings are based on the fallacy that advertising is the deciding factor in creating purchase decisions. It isn’t, especially for these kinds of products. The purpose of pharmaceutical television advertising is to get you to ask your doctor, or to encourage you to tell a loved one to ask his doctor, about the medication. The doctor is responsible for diagnosis and prescription. MSNBC and ABC aren’t. If we can’t trust the doctor to deliver the warnings, then he shouldn’t be prescribing.
And, these warnings are a pain in the you-know-what for the 99% of the people watching the commercial who don’t have Restless Leg Syndrome, or whatever illness is being advertised. We have to listen to a litany of unappetizing side effects and, let’s not kid ourselves, we’re all paying for it. The ad I saw this morning was a :60, and it could have easily been a :30 if it didn’t include warnings about orthostatic hypertention and hallucinations. CNN made some cash, but the rest of us lost out – I’m sure AstraZeneca’s pricing model includes amortization of these premium advertising costs. (Here’s an idea for reducing the cost of health care … maybe Harry, Nancy and Rahm are factoring this into the calculations they are working on right now …)
Advertising is an ever-smaller part of the input to purchase decisions. Come on FDA, get with the times.