“Ask Your Doctor About . . .”


The United States has the distinction, along with New Zealand, of being the only countries that allow direct-to-consumer (DTC) pharmaceutical marketing. Three cheers for the First Amendment!

Marketing prescription drugs to consumers was first given the green light by the FDA in 1983, but it wasn’t until 1997 that drug advertisements began to flood the media landscape. That was when constraints were lifted around the requirement to list all the possible risks and side effects of the drugs, with only the most common side effects needing mention. This opened the possibility of marketing a drug in a 30-second television spot rather than across pages of a print magazine.

We’ve all seen a ton of these ads. And we’ve all been encouraged to “Ask your doctor about . . .”

The American Medical Association is not a huge fan of DTC advertising of drugs. In one survey, 65 percent of physicians said DTC ads confuse patients about the relative risks and benefits of prescription drugs. In addition, about 75 percent of physicians believed that DTC ads cause patients to think the drug works better than it does, and many physicians felt some pressure to prescribe something when patients mentioned DTC ads.

On the other hand, the study found DTC ads help patients have better discussions with their physicians and provide greater awareness of treatments. When a patient asked about a specific drug, 88 percent of the time they had the condition that the drug treated.

I’m fascinated by how lamely these prescription drugs are branded. Many of the names you could never pronounce by looking at them, but like any good consumer brand, almost all of these drugs have logos now—and they are pretty much all predictable, abstract, and meaningless. Those three words would have been death blows back when I was in the logo designing business. But now, just add a swish, a stroke, or a squiggly and you’ve got yourself a drug logo.

Just for fun, let’s look at a few:

Farxiga treats kidney disease. Are those green and blue shapes stand-ins for kidneys (albeit two different sized kidneys), with the orange arrow showing healthy flushing of toxins from your system? Farxiga gets extra points because the commercial includes a little jingle that creates a harmony out of the word Farxiga.

Trulicity, for Type 2 diabetes, has a logo that would fail a class assignment. It might have been a green version of Target’s logo with a couple of erasures on the outer circle. Devoid of any possible meaning, even an ironic one.

Skyrizi treats both psoriasis and arthritis and maybe some other conditions. Maybe it treats everything. So what says that better than a literal twist on the infinity symbol?

Ablixa is for depression. The humanoid figure with the bursting orange delights is not a bad concept, and I say it’s the winner in this group. The only issue is that Ablixa is a made-up drug that was featured in Steven Soderbergh’s thriller “Side Effects,” an entertaining movie with an excellent cast featuring Jude Law, Rooney Mara, Catherine Zeta-Jones, and Channing Tatum. Go figure.

By David Klein

David Klein

Published novelist, creative writer, journalist, avid reader, discriminating screen watcher.


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