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Big pharma’s song and dance


The earworm “1-8-7-7 Kars 4 Kids” always struck me as a stellar example of how insufferable advertising can be when its creators really put their minds to it. The organization behind the long-running ad boasts that the jingle “has quickly become one of the most memorable and catchy radio ads of all time.”
Though I’m not keen on encouraging youngsters to misspell words like “cars,” and while I’ve never understood who among us has enough extra autos sitting around that they’d willingly give one away, at least the dreadful tune is for charity.
That rationale won’t fly for the pharmaceutical industry that has slyly decided the best way to sell drugs on TV is to have a cast of unusually cheerful folks dance and sing about the likes of diabetes, colon exams and irritable bowels. If you watch almost any news or sports program you’ve undoubtedly run into — or away from — ditties such as “I have Type 2 diabetes, but I manage it well. It’s a little pill with a big story to tell!”
That’s from the dance number for Jardiance, a diabetes drug that sells for about $570 a month. Equally annoying is an ad that has the audacity to bastardize a Frank Sinatra classic: “My doc and I agree I’d pick the time, today’s a good day. I screened with Cologuard and did it my way!”
But nothing — I truly hope — can be more painful than the song-and-dance number for Pepto-Bismol: “When you have nausea, heartburn, indigestion, upset stomach, di-a-rrhea…” In the scene, three young corporate types, in what looks like an office break room, belt out the lyrics while rubbing their stomachs and smiling so broadly you’d think they just won a month’s vacation rather than a trip to the bathroom.

Madison Avenue has long been aware of the strategic value of what are called annoyance dynamics in ads. It’s generally accepted that an annoying message has a better chance of sticking in your brain than a more pleasant one, as long as it doesn’t cross the annoyance threshold at which point viewers tune out. This equation is important in pharmaceutical ads which must balance emotion with critical information such as side effects.
The U.S. and New Zealand are the only countries allowing consumer ads for prescription drugs — with spending exceeding $6 billion annually. The FDA requires that such ads include “a fair balance between information about effectiveness and information about risk.” But the regulations say nothing about people dancing in a town square while belting out lyrics about diabetes, which is clearly designed to affect the fairness of the balance.
Peter Yarrow of the acclaimed folk group Peter, Paul and Mary, once wrote what he called “The Colonoscopy Song”: “When I had my colonoscopy, I had a question on my mind / Do we all look the same when the doctor sees us from behind? / Then I had the answer, I felt like such a fool / Cause the doctor smiled and said to me, ‘Your colon’s really cool.’”
At least Mr. Yarrow wasn’t trying to sell us anything.

Copyright 2024 Peter Funt distributed by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate.