The drug companies of the USA and the world have come to be known as Big Pharma. The “big” title is well deserved. The industry is indeed huge, rich and influential. After all, its products help you and me to stay healthy and live longer, right?
However, Big Pharma’s operating methods can be puzzling. Especially its advertising practices. If you don’t think so, just switch your TV set on each night at 6 or 6:30 for the nightly news. You will be swamped with drug advertisements, many of which go something like this:
An attractive middle-aged woman tells us, “I had almost given up. The constant itching around my medulla was driving me insane, and so was the rattling noise coming from my rib cage. I couldn’t sleep, or concentrate during my weekly mahjong game. I was desperate.”
“But then my doctor told me, ‘You probably have Itchy-Twitchy Syndrome, also known as the Siamese Curse, common among post-menopausal women who live within 50 miles of New Jersey. I’ll write you a prescription for a marvelous drug called Twitch-No-More. It was developed by yak shepherds in Mongolia. But first I must ask you if you are tubercular, spasmodic, avuncular or addicted to eating radishes dipped in blue cheese dressing. If so, then you must avoid this product. It will turn you into a semi-valid murgatroyd.’“
The woman continues, “Luckily I’m a practicing Licki-phile, with no contra-indicated practices or allergies. Within a week, Twitch-no-More cured my symptoms.”
The most common (and puzzling) warning given with most new miracle drugs is this: “Do not take (name of drug) if you are allergic to it.”
Which begs the question: how do I discover that fact unless I first try the product?
Another common advertising practice is for drug companies to bad-mouth the competition. For example, the makers of Anti-Rumble Pills promise to immediately eliminate embarrassing stomach growling outbreaks, especially at public events such as Episcopalian weddings. But Anti-Rumble’s rival, Fark-Squelch Inc., tells us “If you had swallowed our rival’s pill at noon, your abdominal gurgling would still be rattling the rafters at sunset.”
Another tradition is for Big Pharma ads seldom to be changed or updated, whether on TV on in a printed publication. The almost-unending repetition of an ad is the equivalent of the ancient Chinese water torture, i.e., one drip (or drop) at a time. After 400 days of viewing or reading the exact same drug ad, a typical viewer is ready to scream, “I give up! I’ll buy your !##% product even though I don’t need it.”
Although the major ailments such as cancer, heart disease and diabetes receive the most attention from Big Pharma (as they should), non-fatal afflictions also stimulate major publicity campaigns. These normally attempt to persuade citizens that we are unfit to live unless our skins are alabaster smooth, our teeth are blinding white and our gum lines are free of all infection. Big Pharma promises to fix all that.
In the past few years it seems that the drug companies have also become especially concerned about our bowel movements — their frequency, regularity, and exactly when and where they take place. The production, selection and general handling of stool samples has become a major spinoff of Big Pharma’s universe. I believe this fecal fascination can be traced directly to the U.S. Constitution, which says that everyone, including advertising copywriters, should be free to say and/or write anything (no matter how distasteful) they please.
But enough of my carping and caviling about Big Pharma’s marketing practices. No industry is perfect. We must live in hope that to cope with the thousands of Big Pharma lobbyists who roam the halls of Congress there will always be public watchdogs eager to howl at every real or alleged offense.
As with our nation’s militias, we need well-regulated medical-drug-research companies to move us forward. For now, Big Pharma seems to be the answer. And for good reason. When is the last time you heard someone say, “Let’s revive polio, typhoid fever, lockjaw and all the other afflictions that used to kill us. Those were the good old days!”