Posted by Adam @ 8:37 pm on March 23rd 2007

The US for limeys, Part 5: television advertising II — medical advertisements

Our doubtless-soon-to-be-legendary scouring of the most boring parts at the bottom of the American Barrel of Life continues with a further look at television advertisements.

So, 30% of your precious Lorelai time is made up of television advertisements, lovingly tailored by advertising executives three to five lines into their morning Colombian pick-me-up. If there’s one thing that every shallow, coke-addled egomaniacal cardboard cut-out approximation to a human being knows, it’s that paranioa is real, so where better to leverage paranoia for financial gain than through worrying people about their health? Sure, there is the small problem of doctors being the only people allowed to prescribe medications, but see how they like saying ‘no’ to hundreds of pushy self-deluded patients coming in to their surgery and demanding a particular named drug they saw advertised on TV for a condition they’ve convinced themselves that they have. Easier to prescribe the drug and hit the course in time to practice your putting.

One handy use of adbreaks is to go to the toilet or, as they say here, ‘go to the bathroom’ (best not to refer to the toilet at all, lest you be viewed as someone with normal bodily functions and find yourself unwelcome in polite company). The adbreaks are so frequent and protracted, however, that if you need even a small fraction of them to attend to your excretory needs, you could have a problem requiring the purchase of medical supplies. You’re in luck! There are many such products available to you in this consumer paradise and your research starts right there in front of the TV. Take it to the bathroom with you.

As mentioned above, conversation about bodily functions is highly impolite, which is something of a problem if you are advertising diapers for adults. The way to get around this is to say little about the product but ensure that the actors in the advertisement are 20 years younger than your market and so thin, happy and rich that the average viewer will enviously wish that they were incontinent like all the cool kids.

Avoiding saying what the product actually does, and for what exact condition, is an essential ingredient in advertising medical products. This is well-illustrated by one of the first ads I saw here: a woman walks into her friend’s living room with a box in her hand and holds it up and cheerily announces: ‘I see that you’ve switched to Ex-lax’. One would think that the correct response to this statement is something along the lines of ‘Jesus wept, you deranged bitch! You’ve been rooting through my medicine cabinet for months, noting which laxatives I use? Get out of my godamned house, you freak, and never darken my door again’, but no. A shy grin, tinged with the desperate realisation that your dreams of Hollywood acting glory are dust, will indicate your secret happiness with your new laxative brand.

There can be no such coyness, however, on the subject of side-effects. The implicit assumption in the UK is that, between doctor and patient, there will be sufficient self-interest and foresight to compel them to, hmm, read the label and instructions. Fear of lawyers, however, is a force to move mountains (or at least force them into an out-of-court settlement), so there can be no such assumptions here in litigation-happy America. Thus, after seeing a happily abstract view of the condition being treated and whilst imagining yourself living a life free of the crippling agony of Restless Leg Syndrome* thanks to the miracle of modern pharmaceuticals, you will hear a very detailed and rather disturbing list of possible side-effects recited at high speed. If you end up with a permanent erection and a heart condition, don’t say you weren’t warned (phone a lawyer anyhow).

Worries about matters such as these are enough to make you depressed. You should probably see a psychiatrist or other mental health expert, but no self-respecting patient goes for that first appointment without already knowing what psychoactive medication they want. Thank Christ for the television advertising of anti-depressants; you may fear going out or talking to people, but with the help of television advertising, you are your own psychiatric expert. 10 years of medical training are as nothing compared to the illustrative power of an animated sad cloud stuck indoors until, post Zoloft, he can go out and play with the happy clouds (you should stop taking Zoloft if your depression worsens, you want to kill yourself or you don’t feel like a happy cloud with lots of friends). If you don’t need it yourself, you may have a vulnerable and suggestible friend struggling desperately to find a solution to their life-endangering depression; what are friends for, after all, if not for giving unsolicited and completely unqualified mental health advice based on cartoon television commercials?

Your mental well-being restored, you will be back in the market for allergy medication, cholesterol-lowering medication, viagra, ‘warming personal lubricant’, palliative medication for the herpes you caught after employing the viagra and warming personal lubricant and, finally, drugs to help you sleep through the side-effects of your other medications.

If you think that you suffer from any conditions you see described in a television advertisement, ask your doctor if you’re an idiot.

*RLS. Any serious medical condition needs a fancy sounding medical name and an initialism. Otherwise, it cannot be distinguished from conventional irritations for which there is no expensive prescription-only medication, nor will you convince yourself that you are suffering from it.

1 Comment »

  1. The bit about not saying anything about what the product does, or what it treats is so very true. In fact, back in the mid-nineties there was an advertisement for a pill that was so absolutely obscure neither I, nor any of my friends could figure out what it was for. Thankfully, said advertisement had a 1-800 number to call for information, in those dark days before the web could tell you any useless bit of information, disinformation and outright lies.

    Even more amusingly, when I called and asked for some information, the polite woman on the other end offered to send me an entire information packet but was utterly confused by the fact that I merely wanted to know what in the name of sam hill the bloody pill was for.

    Turns out it was a boring old allergy pill.

    Comment by Mortexai — 4/7/2007 @ 12:49 pm

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