Hold Your Nose: Today's Medical Advertising Stinks!

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Not only do these TV ads stink, but they also drive up the cost of health care.
Not only do these TV ads stink, but they also drive up the cost of health care.

Before becoming a physician and a professional medical writer/reporter, I spent about a decade kicking around in the advertising agency business.

I created ads and advertising campaigns for a wide variety of clients, both local and national.

I even did a two-year stint with one of the most creative agencies in the history of advertising — Doyle Dane Bernbach (DDB).

For those of you unfamiliar with DDB, this agency spearheaded the creative revolution of advertising on Madison Avenue in the 1950s and 1960s. DDB's early ads for Volkswagen, Avis and other clients are considered advertising classics. 

I won several advertising awards during my tenure in the ad biz. I also managed to keep the wolves away from my door and even amassed a small stash of cash — something I've never been able to do practicing medicine.

I say this not to brag on myself, but to make the case that I know a little bit more about what makes a great ad than the average guy on the street.

And I can tell you with at least some authority that today's advertising stinks. It really stinks!

Medical advertising is a good case in point.

One would think from watching TV that the only four medical conditions that plague human beings today are erectile dysfunction, plaque psoriasis, inflammatory bowel disease, and constipation.

Never mind about Zika, malaria or the root causes of ischemic heart disease (which, by the way, do not include rosuvastatin deficiency).

Besides their narrow focus, these television ads also are distressingly graphic and tasteless. One depicts a purple-colored fecal mass transiting through a colon. Another shows a patient suffering from opioid-induced constipation enviously watching a dog defecate in the background.

Yet another shows various closed bathroom or portable john doors — with the message that behind those doors are people with untreated inflammatory bowel disease giving the plumbing a good workout.

And let's not forget the commercials for pre-lubricated catheters, delivered conveniently and discreetly right to your door -- nor the TV spots touting new medications to take for embarrassing "leakage" problems.

Since most of these ads air during mealtime in my time zone, watching them can make proper digestion of my own food a bit more tentative, to say the least.

Naturally, these commercials extol the benefits of the products they are promoting, which good advertising is supposed to do. But then they hit you with a litany of very bad things — including death — that can happen to you while you're using the products.

Drug manufacturers are legally required to provide such caveats. But doing so can't help but invite the very reasonable concern, “Do I really want to risk death just for clearer skin … or to worry less about having to find a bathroom urgently?”

The truth is, most of these commercials target only a very small subset of consumers. Yet, advertising on major media networks is far from cheap. So the cost of these ads, which are blitzing the airwaves ad nauseam, must be paid by someone. My suspicion is that it's the health care consumer.

My take-home message: not only do these TV ads stink, but they also drive up the cost of health care for those who can least afford to pay.

Phew!

Hold your nose and hide your wallet.

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