So it may cause death. I’ve had worse.

Just to make sure I get it, my understanding of the prime directive of advertising is to increase sales (where the some latitude in defining ‘sales’). To that end, advertisements typically rely on four tactics:

  1. reinforcing a product/service’s strengths;
  2. downplaying its weaknesses;
  3. misdirection, i.e., making weaknesses sound like they’re actually strengths; and
  4. distraction, i.e., diverting your attention to something completely unrelated, most often via sexual references and/or humor.

Now. Did I get any of that wrong? For the sake of discussion, let’s just say I’ve got it 100% correct. So someone please explain to me what the deal is with those commercials for Celebrex, a partial transcript for which can be found below.

Even with crippling arthritis, everyone loves a ride in a bitchin' convertible

First off, the commercial doesn’t actually say what the product does; it either assumes you already know – which is a ridiculous assumption, since even aspirin (which I assume everyone does in fact know what it does) commercials focus on relieving headaches – or hopes you’ll pay close enough attention to hear the words ‘pain relief’ and ‘arthritis’ tucked in now and again.

Second, the Summer in Napa acoustic guitar musical score and pleasant-if-robotic ‘I also record automated voicejail messages’ narration hardly distract from the fact that the voiceover sounds like it was written by a defense lawyer.

And third, if in introducing yourself to prospective new customers, you find yourself needing to mention that your product may lead to death by the third sentence, you might want to consider a different approach. Or, I don’t know, maybe making something that doesn’t list death as a side effect. (sidebar: they do finally work around to some more typical advertising tactics toward the end, noting that in some cases the product’s benefits outweigh such side effects.)

For the sake of discussion, let’s presume that this commercial wasn’t put out by pranksters secretly planning to subvert Pfizer pharmaceuticals, and that it does in fact follow the Four Tenets of Advertising listed above. What we end up with is a product for people who dream of driving a sportscar, golfing and going to the supermarket. People who feel their lives have been taken over by small type, but who are able to control that small type and bend it to their will, like Keanu Reeves at the end of The Matrix. People who are in such pain that they’ll try anything, but would prefer to stay away from street drugs on account of still holding stock in the concept of Legitimacy (because, as we’re informed in the course of the action, “You also may be surprised to learn prescription Celebrex has never been taken off the market.”).

Anyway. Discuss. Here’s a transcript of as much of the commercial as I could pull off of their website.

    EXT INT: A house, picket fence to one side, cobblestone entrance to a three paneled backdoor entrance to a suburban residence. Interior features minimal furnishing. Zoom in. Female automaton picks keys from low table, wraps scarf around neck, tosses keys through the air. Track keys.

    VO:
    When it comes to relieving arthritis pain, you may think some prescription NSAID pain relievers, like ibuprofen and naproxin, don’t have any cardiovascular risks, but based on the available research, that’s not clear.

    INT: Male automaton, sweater vest and receded hairline, catches keys, reaches for and grasps front door knob. Zoom on forearm, composed of pesky ‘small type’.

    VO:
    And, if you look closer, the FDA requires all these NSAID pain relievers — including Celebrex — to have the same cardiovascular warning.

    INT/EXT: Zoom out from ‘small type’ to reveal male automaton’s arm on stickshift. Pan back to reveal male automaton and female automaton in convertible (male in driver seat). Car moves at slow, sensible speed on curvy road with substantial guard rails on both sides.

    VO:
    Any prescription NSAID, including Celebrex, may increase the chance of heart attack or stroke, which can lead to death. This chance increases if you have heart disease or risk factors for it, such as high blood pressure or when NSAIDS are taken for long periods.

    EXT: Zoom in on ‘small type’ comprising female automaton’s scarf, and pan across transcript of voiceover.

    VO:
    All prescription NSAIDS — including Celebrex — also increase the chance of serious skin reactions or stomach or intestine problems, such as bleeding and ulcers, which can

    EXT:Transition (before reaching the ‘death’ part coming up to bird flying over convertible car with male/female automatons. Track birds and car, traveling toward same destination on horizon.

    SFX: Bird chirps.

    VO:
    occur without warning and may cause death.

    With any of these medicines, patients also taking aspirin and the elderly are at increased risk for stomach bleeding and ulcers.

    EXT/INT: Zoom in on steering wheel in convertible, which transitions to ‘small type’.

    VO: All prescription NSAIDs have some of the same warnings, and they all help treat arthritis pain.

    INT/EXT: Pan back from ‘small type’ to reveal female automaton, stepping out from gold cart. Female walks to ball, putts it toward hole, at which male stands, lifting flag as ball approaches.

    VO:
    But since individual results may vary, having options is important. An NSAID like Celebrex may be one option. You also may be surprised to learn prescription Celebrex has never been taken off the market.

    Actually, based on the available data,

    EXT/INT: Zoom in on ball sinking into golf hole. Zoom in on rim of hole, which transitions to ‘small type’ of following portion of script.

    VO:
    the FDA stated that for certain patients, Celebrex’s benefits outweigh the risks.

    INT: Supermarket. Female automaton pushes cart on far side of frame as we zoom in on it, but pan left to table laden with apples.

    VO:
    But only you and your doctor can make that decision. And if you’re concerned about stomach upset, you should know:

    INT: Table edge transitions to voiceover script. Female’s cart passes by in background.

    VO:
    clinical studies, a lower percentage of patients taking Celebrex reported stomach discomfort versus prescription ibuprofen and naproxen.

    EXT: Female’s cart transitions to freestanding, post-bound mailbox.

    VO:
    What’s more, Celebrex can be used with low-dose aspirin. Other prescription…

    Not that I’m not thrilled, but the commercial on the website cuts off at this point with perhaps the last 20% remaining.

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    2 Responses to “So it may cause death. I’ve had worse.”

    1. Isn’t one of the problems with advertising medications that the FCC places all sorts of restrictions on what can actually be broadcast? Print ads for meds have all sorts of fine print detailing a vast number of side effects, and a 30 second TV spot won’t be able to do that. As a result, most of a TV spot is going to be faced with the last two of your bullet points at the top, distraction and misdirection. There just isn’t time in the spot to go over a laundry list of benefits and side effects. It’ll be a highly successful ad then if it causes you to remember the drug’s name when you go to the doctor’s office; who cares what it actually does or doesn’t do.

    2. intoallthat Says:

      There’s a whole separate rant for advertising pharmaceutical directly to hypochondiacs I’ll maybe take a couple of cheap jabs at (namely, the fact that it’s difficult to get FDA approval for new drugs, yet relatively easy to make up new diseases for drugs that already have approval and convince people that they’ve got them (restless leg syndrome, anyone?)), and then shelve for a later date. The point here is that the commercial skips all the formalities other disclaimer-heavy commercials observe and gets right to damage control. There’s no late-middle-aged man mixing things up by coming home on a motorcycle like Viagra. Or sad puppy owner trapped inside by allergens on a beautiful Spring afternoon like Zyrtec. Or restless sleeper with big day planned tomorrow with Ambien. It’s sort of like coming home to find your spouse/roommate/teenager standing in the hallway and greeting you with, “Now, before you go into the kitchen, I just want to tell you that that I’ve been telling you to replace the battery in the smoke detector for months now, and that tatty, old wallpaper totally needed to be replaced anyway.”

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