Wednesday, February 11, 2009

"I didn't go to medical school for nothing," or "I'm not a cheerleader for a brandname drug, but I play one on TV."

I have railed against DTC pharmaceutical advertising for a while, as you probably know if you have ever watched prime time TV with me. But even as I find myself skeezed out by the bathtub people in the Cialis commercials, few of these ads bother me as much as birth control ads do.

Now, don't get me wrong. On principle, I think that if you're going to urge American men to Viva Viagra (okay, those ads bother me as much as birth control ads), someone had better be standing by to assure American women that they won't have to spend the rest of their lives barefoot and pregnant. I just happen to think that someone should be a doctor; call me crazy, I guess. But then again, maybe this is what the women's movement was all about-- equal rights, equal pay, equal airtime?

I digress. Given that I probably can't take down the entire DTC advertising structure all by myself today, I will temporarily allow that pharmaceutical advertising on TV is our reality. This assumption provides me a clever little segue into my actual point-- the degree to which birth control ads are or are not based in reality. First, let's remind ourselves about some terminology we take for granted-- birth control. The name suggests that the purpose is to control births, i.e., keep the user from getting prego. Simple enough. As a directly related effect, it also happens to regulate the menstrual cycle, which one probably expects when one ingests a very specific hormone regimen. But again, that's just related to the main issue-- birth control.

So why isn't this the focus of any advertising for the Pill? Wait a minute, did you see how I switched it up there? I didn't call it birth control; I called it the Pill. Because that's how it's advertised. We're not even supposed to remember that the point is contraception, as this video does a great job highlighting. We're supposed to think of the Pill as the silver bullet to make our skin better and mitigate our PMS surliness and give us the freedom to release balloons from the sunroof of a VW bug while driving in circles and listening to The Veronicas. Why is that, by the way? Is it some leftover relic of the Comstock Law? Is it because we're afraid of offending those morally opposed to contraception? Is it because, secretly, even the producers of birth control want us to be barefoot and pregnant? (Okay, that last one is pretty conspiracy theory-esque, but ask yourself how many major pharmaceutical companies are run by women. Furthermore, don't you sometimes wonder if it would be easier to meet and marry Mr. Right if you weren't a zit-covered, homicidal maniac? Yes, you.)

Anyway, this is all a very roundabout way of saying that when I saw the first ad correcting all the previous Yaz ads (you can read about it here) I was pretty pleased. First of all, that obnoxious woman "who didn't go to medical school for nothing" (as if anyone with an MD calls it "medical school" in conversation) comes right out and says that Yaz is birth control. Second of all, she clarifies the on-label uses and doesn't hype the off-label benefits. I have a lot of ambivalence about off-label uses of drugs in general, but I'm willing to let it slide a little bit with birth control because it's relatively inexpensive (cough, don't use Yaz, use a generic, cough). Still, the whole reason I find off-label use of anything conscionable is because it typically happens with a doctor's recommendation and oversight. Therefore, while I have a big problem with people with high cholesterol marching to their doctors and demanding Vytorin (sorry, I find their ads really visually clever), I have a bigger problem with women with pimples marching to their doctors and demanding hormones. Because we all know that Proactiv is the country's number one skin care solution. Trust us; we're Jessica Simpson and Alyssa Milano.

Finally, the Times article suggests that asking Bayer to pay $20 million to air the corrective ads amounts to a slap on the wrist in the world of DTC advertising. Agreed. But the average person who sees one of those ads probably isn't going to say to herself, "Hmm, I wonder how much that set them back... oh wait, drop in the bucket." Rather, I think she's going to say, "Hmm, it kind of sounds like they kind of lied to me." And if the new Yaz ads can do anything to undermine the credibility of DTC advertising overall, that's worth more than $20 million in my book.

No comments: