Thursday, December 4, 2008

As Roger Ebert Once Told Me— Ignore The TV Advertising

Film critic, Roger Ebert, once gave me some personal advice at a conference in Boulder, Colorado. He said that if I wanted to enjoy a thoughtful film instead of a stupid movie, I should ignore all the TV advertising and high attendance ratings, and go with a film title that had gained little attention with mainstream moviegoers. Ignoring the TV ads was the key. I’m remembering Roger Ebert’s advice from years ago because it seems to apply to a now-timely subject that’s far removed from the movies.

This year, DTC (direct to consumer) television ads promoting prescription medications celebrated the ten year anniversary of the FDA ruling that opened the floodgates, so to speak. Today, pharmaceutical companies spend $2.60 on television marketing (the ads plus the samples to back them up) for each dollar spent on research, so when Big Pharma spokespeople justify the high cost of prescription medicines by citing research funding needs, they’re telling you less than one-third of the truth. None of this would make much difference except for the fact that the U.S. government and private healthcare insurance providers are running out of money to pay for the extravagance. But here’s the kicker— just as the most lavish television advertising promotes mostly second-rate movies coming out of Hollywood, so also the most DTC television activity is focused mostly on high-priced pharmaceuticals to treat second-rate health problems. If a person can cut through all the LCD flatscreen pharma-hype, they can save money on prescription medicines just the way that I found I could avoid watching bad movies by following Roger Ebert’s advice. Ignore the television advertising.

DTC advertising has given us a new way to look at “pathology lite”—those human ills that most of us have at one time or another. Here are some of the afflictions de jure being hyped on television: restless leg syndrome, heartburn, overactive bladder, fibromyalgia, sadness, COPD, insomnia, erectile dysfunction, indigestion, aching joints, obsessive-compulsive disorder (otherwise known as adult ADHD), and common depression. If you recently found out by watching television that you have one of these afflictions, then you probably don’t have it. When you’re really sick, you don’t need an outside source to tell you that you’re sick. The medications being sold on TV for the afflictions de jure are not medications that will save your life, and probably not even improve your life, but they will eat up your bankroll. Some have actually killed people. It’s always worth remembering that antibiotics and cancer therapies— the pharmaceuticals that actually will save your life— are never advertised on television.

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