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.


  • David Hutchison
    Mar 12, 2010 - 11:40 am

    This is the product of an over-litigious society I would think, not the FDA so much. Can’t you imagine someone suing because the commercial didn’t warn them – even if the doctor should. I could even imagine someone suing because the bought it over the internet from somewhere overseas and are upset the commercial didn’t warn them.

    THat said – strong point about the costs being rolled into the product for us. But don’t you think if they budgeted for a 60-sec commercial they would use that budget up, warnings needed or not?

  • Brian Kovach
    Mar 12, 2010 - 14:02 pm

    If the goal was really to drive the “purchase” decision, we’ve reduced our doctors to being pushers and only there to write prescriptions.

    Not only has the need for all of these disclosures increased the cost of the spot, it has multiplied legal fees many times over.

    Either way no relationship was improved in any way.

  • roslyn metchis
    Mar 12, 2010 - 16:18 pm

    “it may decrease your dementia”. Probably a typo, but if it really DECREASES dementia, it would be very valuable!

    • Steve Yastrow
      Mar 12, 2010 - 16:43 pm

      Thanks Roslyn! Not a typo – a mistake … probably just a side effect of something! At least I can go edit it.

  • Larry Kaufman
    Mar 12, 2010 - 16:19 pm

    Sam meets his 85 year old friend Harry rushing down the street and asks what’s the hurry. Harry says he’s late for his father’s wedding. Sam says, Your father must be well over a hundred, why does a man that old want to get married. Harry replies, He doesn’t want to, he has to.

    The pharma companies don’t want to include that crap, but they do want to get the public to force awareness on doctors. Whether it’s the FDA or the FCC, someone has made a stupid rule — but the really bad rule is the one that allows so-called ethical drugs to be advertised at all when they can’t be purchased without a doctor’s prescription.

    What we should probably be doing is writing to our congressmen — and if they aren’t a depressed bunch, they ought to be.

  • Glenn Street
    Mar 17, 2010 - 15:03 pm

    Alternate take:

    Pharma companies advertise the bejeezus out of a drug. Then get a second party to sort out, on their own time and expense, who should actually take the drug (doctors). Then have a third party pay for both the sorting process and consumption of the drug (insurance companies).

    Great gig, if you can pull it off. Let somebody else pay your largest distribution costs. Drug manufacturers are pulling this off. So far.

    So, where does the real expense of these drugs from? An additional 10 seconds of warnings on national TV? Yep, that damned FDA is adding to the costs. Big time!

    Get real. Steve, I’m a fan of yours but I believe your thoughts are missing the big picture in this case.

    The pharma companies are exploiting hope, and letting others figure out how to deal with the costs. I have yet to find a doctor who likes drug ads. Their offices get flooded with people asking questions about a drug which is often not appropriate for their situation. The doctor is placed in the awkward position of explaining which drug IS appropriate (or worse, taking nothing and instead changing diet and exercise habits… gasp!). They face an uphill battle overcoming the wonderful images their patients envision of laughing on a tropical beach after popping that pill – as was “promised” in that slick TV ad they saw. It’s pretty tough, being the reality check. And time consuming. And expensive.

    Let’s also not forget the insurance expense of paying for these theatrics. I’m no fan of health insurance companies, but they are getting the raw end of this “deal” as well.

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