From Steve Dubansky, MD, SVP, Medical Director
Irish playwright Brendan Behan authored the quote, “There is no such thing as bad publicity except your own obituary.” Perhaps there’s a modicum of truth to that aphorism, but there is also plenty of room for doubt.
Sadly, there are pharmaceutical marketers who might suggest, “there’s no such thing as a bad ad.” While we know that many consumer advertisers hold this belief, as manifested by too numerous to count advertisements of rather poor taste, I have clung to the belief that the pharmaceutical industry might avoid the “lowest” common denominator approach to ads. Can drug ads be boring? Often. Redundant? Of course. Derivative? Frequently. Hyperbolic? Let me count the ways. Banal? Trite? Lifeless? Guilty on all counts.
But I never thought I’d see the language in a recent TV spot for a smoking-cessation product. Believe me, I’m not a prude; I’m a pediatrician who practiced for 25 years and who knows how impressionable young children can be. And, in my mind, this ad goes just a little too far.
For this advertisement, its marketers decided to reach into the grab bag of poor taste and pull out the word “suck” — now there’s a word you could proudly build your campaign around. Not only is the word repeated multiple times in the ad, but to be sure to get the point across that smoking cessation has varying degrees of difficulty, the ad presents a “suckometer.” Here’s hoping our youngsters can quickly adopt the word “suck” as part of their vernacular. “This third grade roller skating party really sucks, Mrs. Smith!” Better yet, “Kindergarten really sucks, Mom!”
The advertiser says, “Nicotine withdrawal itself can be very difficult for people to endure.” Really? Who’d a thunk it? The ad’s creators said, “The campaign is designed to engage smokers in an honest way by reaching them with a message that shows the brand understands what they are going through…” I get it, and it recalls the old axiom: “When the going gets tough, the tough reach for the word ‘suck.’”
Perhaps this kind of approach to drug advertising shouldn’t be limited to smoking cessation alone. Surprisingly, there are other medical conditions that are also “very difficult for people to endure”; other conditions where it’s important for the brand to empathize with the patient. How about: “Diabetes is really sh**ty.” “COPD is such crap.” “When my MS relapses, it knocks me on my ass.” “Chemotherapy really blows.”
Will their ad work? It certainly got my attention, but then again so do traffic accidents. I’m sure it will be discussed in other venues. In other words, it’s engendered the publicity it sought. Me? I’ve always preferred the Abraham Lincoln dictum, “What kills a skunk is the publicity it gives itself.”