spoonful of sugar

I’ve been expecting it to blow up.

Marketing Rule #2634 — If all the players in one industry start a marketing arms-race, it will escalate to a point that one of the players will be stupid enough to launch the missile that destroys the marketing for the entire industry.

If you’ve been anywhere near a TV, you’ll know what industry I’m talking about. It’s hard to watch the evening news without suffering hypochondria. Side effects may include repulsion of stock images and cheesy people. Ask your doctor if it’s right for you.

Two ad campaigns / drugs stick out as the ones that have repulsed me the most. One is the scale city model maker who “shrinks” his prostate just like his handful of clay with Avodart. It definitely has the scariest disclaimer – Women should not even touch it without the risk of birth defects. Yeah – that’s something I want to take.

The other one I hate makes me wonder just how many people are walking around with genital herpes?

Back to my fabulous marketing arms-race / missile analogy —
Vytorin and its maker Merck/Schering-Plough have been stupid. You’ve seen the spots. People who look like food. Food that looks like people. Refresh your memory with this video —

The spots make me wonder what food I resemble. (Please leave your suggestions in the comments. Be kind.)

While the first or second versions of the spots were somewhat interesting and the people did kinda look like the food, they progressively got worse where I saw no resemblance. They should have stopped the campaign there. Or even better, maybe they should have stopped the campaign when they knew the drug didn’t work.

Their nasty little secret that they’ve known about for a year has come out in the news in the last few weeks.

From the blonde mini-skirted drug rep that is rushed past me as I’m sitting in the waiting room to the sleazy “consulting” trips that the pharma companies send doctors to in Hawaii, marketing for the entire pharma industry is SICK. This Vytorin fiasco (along with the next few drug scandals that I’m sure are coming down the pike) are just symptoms of the bigger illnesses.

Those illnesses being lack of respect for your consumer and lack of honesty about what you’re selling. What’s the treatment? The hardest medicine will be the eventual consumer backlash. I think (and hope) the more immediate treatment will be a big dose of government regulation and oversight.

12 thoughts on “spoonful of sugar

  1. scotty

    that they’ve known about for a year The item you are looking for cannot be found in our database.:(uhm … ugli fruit?:)

  2. Chris Houchens

    @scotty1) Sorry Ad Age sometimes is fussy about people wanting to give them new readers. Imagine that.2) I said be nice.

  3. Jonathan Trenn

    But it hasn’t blown up yet, has it? It’s a big story, to be sure. For now. And some in Congress say they’re going to look into it. But the Merck/Schering-Plough are already doing their best to obfuscate the issue. And I bet, to an extent, they’ll succeed. The full page ad in front of me talks of Vytorin’s safety and its ability to lower LDL (bad) cholestoral and the confusion of “one study”.But the issue will be partially hidden between three types of drugs – Vytorin, Zetia, and Zocor; two company names – Merck and Schering-Plough; two types of cholestoral – LDL and HDL; and the two conditons – lower LDL and remove plaque. Jeez, what was the problem here?Stock prices will go down a bit and the industry will take a small hit. Congress will have hearings but they’ll be drowned out by the presidential race. Come 2009, this could be a back burner issue.It will hurt the industry as a whole as people will be skeptical, but they’ll turn to their doctors who often get the same info as we do.I agree with more regulations and fines, but they often don’t work or are hard to prove. The fines levied often are greatly outweighed by the profit.A vanilla muffin.

  4. Chris Houchens

    @jonathan — true — this may not the explosion — but hopefully it’s the tipping point

  5. kathy meyer venice

    That’s very interesting information – especially about the ads. I was wondering if I was the only one who was noticing that suddenly the woman with a polka dotted dress and a pepperoni pizza were not similar at all. Not to mention the ad firm missed when it came to rhyming.Anyway, after being annoyed by the ads and then reading the reports while at my last doctor’s visit I saw a Kleenex box with Vytorin splashed on it and asked the receptionist if she had up to date infomormation on the meds they were promoting. She stated that she didn’t realize they still had the Kleenex box out and promptly removed it.Maybe Congress won’t listen to me but I’ll make sure that my doctor does!kiwi

  6. Jonathan Trenn

    ChrisBy amazing coincidence I had been your site earlier today because I was looking at blogs that talked about the customer being in control. Saw this: http://shotgunconcepts.blogspot.com/2005/03/customer-is-in-control.htmlTo me, this shows me that they don’t have control. I site my previous post and the intentional confusion of the situation by M/S-P as an example. Most people will be too busy with their lives to fully remember this. They’ll get generally cynical about advertising, but pharma companies could end up being relatively unscathed in something like this…especially since no one has died.I don’t see a groundswell of social media bloggers talking about this that much. Except you. I’ll be writing about it.

  7. Chris Houchens

    @kathy — that’s what it will take. Not saying to the doctor that you saw a commerical and want the drug — but that you are disappointed that that they are participating in the sleaze.@jonathan — unfortunately, it make take deaths to make people take notice. You’re right that the company is working hard to quell the talk. They had a lot of money to run the ads — they have just as much or more to stifle the conversation. But even if this incident is swept under the rug, there will be another one.Concerning the customer being in control, healthcare is an odd duck in that the consumer doesn’t necessarily have alot of control over their purchase right now. They just present a card and their insurance picks up the tab. But I think that as the insurance industry changes and we see more personal accountability for costs with things like HSAs, the consumer will gain more control and speak up about these sorts of things.As I said in the post, it’s a sick system and it will take some time and effort to change it

  8. GoingLikeSixty.com

    You look like Hick-a-ma.Pharma-babes: beautiful guys are moving into this area because most office staff are female. Check out the marketing portion of Medworm.com for some “insider” reading. There is a recent blog about the BS of continuing medical education.Also how Merck and Schering are handling their problems.

  9. Mike

    Since you are very good at communicating ways in which pharma companies should not use commercials in their branding, what ways do you recommend pharmaceutical companies execute their branding??

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