Drugs, Money, Media and Advertising
Ads for pharmaceutical drugs are everywhere. They are in magazines, on television and radio, on billboards, and on the little bags that you get from the pharmacist. These days it is difficult to get away from all the drug advertising. All these ads are for products that require a doctor's prescription. The goal of advertising is to increase profits. By advertising so heavily for drugs that the majority of the population does not need, pharmaceutical companies attempt to create as large a consumer base as they can. In advertising directly to the consumer, the drug companies accomplish two objectives. First, they get information directly to the consumer. Second, they promote the product and generate demand for their particular drug.
Whether this type of direct-to-consumer advertising is good or bad depends on your perspective. The controversy about drug advertisement lies in how drug companies use the money generated by ads and how they choose to advertise their products. Some argue that the pharmaceutical companies just pocket the profits generated by ads, while the companies themselves say that the money is needed for the research and development of new cutting-edge drugs. The information that the drug companies provide in the ads can be both informative and misleading. Deciding which side is right or wrong may be more difficult than we think, as both sides make good arguments for their case. More likely than not, the answer lies somewhere in between, with both sides being right and wrong.
Allergy drugs such as Claritin, Allegra, and Flonase have become very popular in recent years. In 2000, Claritin was fifteenth in the 200 most prescribed drugs in the US, while Allegra and Flonase were both in the top 60 (Scott-Levin, 2001). Pharmaceutical companies claim that these drugs have a low occurrence of side effects (Allegra, 2001). Doctors often prescribe these drugs to those who have allergy-like symptoms without checking for particular allergies (Francis, 2001; Swanson, 2001). With so many commercials that tout the drugs as relieving symptoms and causing few side effects, many people are lulled into thinking that no side effects exist. The public is bombarded by images of happy people in fun and relaxing situations. They show what life could be for those who take these drugs. Lulled into a false sense of security by all these marketing tactics, why wouldn't people go see their doctors and ask for these drugs?
Ken Sanes (2000) gives a detailed description of a Claritin commercial and talks about its symbolism. This particular ad featured a hot air balloon and people enjoying an elaborate picnic in a field, after which they took a ride in the balloon. The website describes the ad as contrasting "the feeling of being trapped and weighted down, . . . with a floating hot air balloon and an upbeat song about blue skies." Sanes also claims that the commercial goes...