Some love it, others hate it. Controversy surrounds Biogen’s direct-to-consumer (DTC) television advertisement for the multiple sclerosis (MS) pill Tecfidera. In the world of advertising, there is a specific language used to entice people to buy things: a trusted spokesperson such as a popular actor pitching the product; a suggested lifestyle to which we all hope to live; startling statistics that grab our attention; and suggestive body language that evokes the feeling, “I want what they have.” Let’s face it; advertisers know how to hook us and reel us in. And although pharmaceutical advertising of prescription medication is regulated in almost every country, it is not in the U.S. Sadly, the pharmaceutical giants appear to be primarily interested in their bottom line, financially speaking. So how does this affect you?
You may be thinking that claims made in ads are false and/or deceptive. In actuality, the messaging is truth manipulated so that it meets legal requirements yet might lack facts thereby being ambiguous intentionally. It’s what I personally refer to as advertising jargon. Drug advertising aims to appeal to a consumer’s hope for a healthier or better life by equating taking the advertised medication to the lifestyle benefits the person desires. The plethora of possible side-affect information stated in the background seems almost an afterthought even though it can be quite intimidating. It is also thought that DTC advertising plays a role, whether positive or negative, in the doctor-patient relationship. From personal experience, I know that if I see an ad (whether in print or on television) that discusses a medication that might be applicable to me, it does motivate me to ask my doctor about it during my next appointment.
Next time you are watching television pay close attention and take note of the various DTC ads and how they too portray people in ridiculous ways. For example, in a commercial for Cialis a man and a woman are portrayed in separate bathtubs looking into each other’s eyes longingly. This particular drug deals with erectile dysfunction so what is with the two bathtubs? Another example is a commercial for Claritin portraying a young, fit, healthy woman being exposed to every known allergen in a 15-second jaunt around a carnival. Really? Thankfully the FDA does keep tabs on false and misleading advertising and if you want to learn more about their role, click HERE.
For the purposes of this article, let’s examine Biogen’s Tecfidera advertisement a bit closer. The ad portrays a slim, beautiful woman in seemingly perfect health hiking, swimming and going to a fair all in one day without showing any signs of fatigue. To some, this seems unrealistic for a normal, healthy person yet alone for someone with MS. If this is a medication targeting people with MS, shouldn’t the ad be more sensitive to the symptoms of MS? When looked at without bias, the ad does tug at an MS patient’s emotions by portraying the desired life that is possibly out of reach on their current protocol. It also brings to the forefront much needed awareness to MS since many people are unfamiliar with it. The only drawback is that the negative side of MS is not depicted, or should I say, conveniently omitted. As you can imagine, hundreds of comments were made about this commercial resulting in mixed reviews.
According to Biogen CFO Paul Clancy (when he spoke to investors), “the main purpose of the Tecfidera television commercial was to increase awareness of the drug.”
This fact is undeniable. It did raise awareness and most likely resulted in many physician-patient conversations. To Biogen this was important to drive Tecfidera sales that were becoming sluggish (remember a primary concern of big pharma is their bottom line). It is interesting to note that I think Biogen also seems to want to play a role in filling the knowledge gap in the MS community by creating increased awareness of treatment options via this commercial; perhaps as a way to offset their profit-driven, less-than-realistic advertising.
My take is that although this is a totally unreasonable portrayal of what a person with MS can accomplish in one day (with or without a medication like Tecfidera), it did raise awareness about MS as well as educate people about it to a small degree. Admittedly, because a small part of me deep inside felt a yearning to be able to do what the woman in the commercial was able to achieve (as I had seen in print advertisements when Tecfidera first launched) I was inclined to approach my neurologist and have the conversation that led to changing my disease modifying therapy to Tecfidera. Does this make me a sucker for advertising? Maybe, but it certainly achieved its primary goal of starting a conversation that we are all still having.
What do you think about the Tecfidera ad?
Barbara inspires hope through mindful health and a meaningful life. By combining healthy living, spirituality, and neuroscience principles, she helps people understand how to be proactive in their health care versus reactionary in their sick care so they can feel great in their body and in their life. Her greatest wish is to never hear a person say, “I should be taking better care of myself.” To learn more and receive her FREE guide, visit Appelbaum Wellness.
Recommended Reading: Questions to Ask Your Doctor