Ads for medication and healthcare services used to be friendly and compassionate. Now it seems as if the majority of providers and manufacturers are into scaring the citizens to sell their products. Big Pharma has released a string of unnerving and disturbing commercials that are geared toward extracting an immediate reaction. The desired reaction: Terrified consumers who are reaching into their purses and pockets to pay for medical products. Why has the nature of medication ads changed so much over the years? Who is Big Pharma trying to target, and why do they seem to be using such an aggressive strategy?
One reason that such manufacturers are going so heavy on the scare-tactic advertisements may be to grab the attention of the “baby boomer” generation. There are more than 80 million baby boomers in the world, and many of them are retired if not retiring soon. Some of them have existing ailments, irrational fears and a flawed understanding life quality. Such people are likely to react immediately to a perceived threat that may upset their personal view of a meaningful existence. Grabbing the attention of scared baby boomers before they pass away is most likely the hidden agenda of such harsh ad campaigns. Of course, they aren’t going to come out and admit a last-hurrah attempt at extorting money from baby boomers, so the concept remains a theory or speculation at best.
The Effectiveness of Scare Tactics
All ads that focus on harsh medical consequences are called scare tactics whether the facts are true or not. Ads with the sincerest level of statistical data are still placed in the scare tactic category because they aim to terrify people into performing a desired action. Apparently, scare tactics do work. The state of New York posted a few scary ads against smoking. They also aired an ad about overeating and diabetes. The ad showed an amputee and referenced “cutting” one’s portion to avoid having the doctor cut a portion of a leg. The state’s health department reported a drop of more than 14 percent in smokers since it ran the anti-smoking ad in 2014. Scare tactics do work on some individuals, and not so much on others. Teens, for example, are more likely to rebel and ignore such information. Additionally, some of them may not be mature enough to discern dangerous situations.
Examples of Frightening Commercials
Big Pharma manufacturers have televised many frightening ads. Mylan posted a frightening commercial about a party attendant after it raised the price of its EpiPen product drastically. Another commercial showed a child who ended up in the hospital because a parent assumed that an illness was less severe than it was. Another one showed children asking their parents if they were aware of their risk for cancer. All the previously mentioned ads prey on possible feelings of inadequacy in parents. Such parents are likely to run out and pay for certain products and procedures so they don’t harm their children like the “neglectful” people in the commercials did. The tactic might be ingenious if it weren’t so utterly wrong.
Big Pharma, Giant Advertising Campaigns
Big Pharma increased its advertising expenses more than 23 percent over the past couple years, and it doesn’t look as if the scare campaigns are going to stop any time soon. The manufacturers that placed the ads had questionable defenses for doing so. Mylan and many other companies omitted the names of their products to comply with FDA regulations, although many watchers would probably figure them out. EpiPen is one of only two options for anaphylactic shock products, for example, and the other product is not popular.
As long as big money continues to circulate, Big Pharma is likely to continue its tactics. The question is whether consumers will decide one day that they have had quite enough.