Try This Experiment at Home

The next time a prescription drug ad comes on, turn the sound off and watch the scenes of happy people enjoying active lives with families, friends, and pets.

The next time that ad runs, leave the sound on, close your eyes and listen. You may discover how the list of side effects has a greater impact when you are not watching pretty pictures of people having fun.

Try to count the total number of side effects.

By law they have to include these warnings, but they’re not required to give them the same emphasis as the sales pitch. If they were, they’d have to show people vomiting, having seizures, bleeding, and dying.

Listen as the announcers deliver really bad news in a calm and reassuring way so we won’t worry.

Listen how the voiceovers are deliberately sped up so we won’t pay attention while they read long lists of bad things that could cause us harm. All the while, the videos show active, happy people. The pretty pictures do their job of distracting us.

Brand vs Generic.

Too many people opted away from brand names to the equally effective and cheaper generic ibuprofen. The name was easy to say and spell. So now the generic names for new drugs are deliberately too complicated for people to remember or pronounce, which keeps us buying brand-names. Ustekinumab, Secukinumab, Vedolizumab, and Adalimumab, all sound like Saturday Night Live gags or Balkan States.

Do you remember Vioxx?

Used to treat arthritis, it was aggressively marketed by Olympians Bruce Jenner and Dorothy Hamill. It hit $1.5 billion in sales before being pulled off the market for doubling the risk of heart attack or stroke. The FDA estimates that Vioxx was responsible for 100,000 heart attacks and 30,000 deaths.

We hear two stories.

Drug makers are responsible corporate citizens who want consumers to be more well-informed, or drug makers are money-grabbing predators who deliberately mislead us. You choose.