What was your favorite Super Bowl Ad? How about your least favorite ad? Was it “PuppyMonkeyBaby”? Perhaps the Marmot ad, which was actually cute?
You don’t need to be an expert to have an opinion, and at 5 million dollars for a 30 second spot, my guess is that advertisers are happy if the ad sticks in your mind – whether positively or negatively. It’s like the old saying goes – there is no such thing as bad PR. And I am good with all of that, but not with one ad in particular – and ad which I find troubling and even dangerous – even though I found it kind of funny.
Yes, I admit that I occasionally enjoy the ever-childish, poop joke. So, when a one minute -that’s 10 Mil – spot features a guy who is so constipated that he envy’s a dog straddling a fire hydrant, it brings a smile to my face. At least it does until I get that the ad is part of the more than 6 billion dollars spent each year by pharmaceutical companies on direct-to-consumer advertising of prescription drugs in the United States. That’s just wrong, and that is coming from a proudly capitalist, free trade leaning American consumer.
In fact, the United States has the dubious distinction of the being one of only two nations in the world to allow DTC advertising of prescription medications. The other country is New Zealand, with only 4.4 million people, and a government regulated medication reimbursement program which renders the allowable ads virtually irrelevant and virtually non-existent. Then there is us.
6 billion dollars invested toward creating hundreds of millions of largely uneducated consumers, making requests of educated medical professionals regarding the 375 billion dollars Americans spend each year on prescription drugs. And all that, even as the majority of Americans report real concerns about the rising costs of healthcare. You don’t need to be a “lefty” to know that something is really wrong here.
We are getting taken for a ride – and I know that from personal experience. I will never forget waking up from a colonoscopy and discussing with my doctor a minor adjustment he wanted to make in my medication for a relatively minor GI issue – one well-managed by a generic medication with a long record of good success. None of that stopped me from asking him, in all sincerity, if we might not consider a highly advertised, and much more highly priced, name brand alternative.
My doctor looked at me, and smiled. And before he gave me the very patient explanation about why that wasn’t the way to go, I already appreciated the absurdity of the situation. It’s not that patients should not partner with their professionals in working toward better health. We should.
We should also realize that they are the professionals, that we are the patients and that when our desires are driven by ads we see on television, that’s bad. If not, perhaps we should cut out doctors and nurses altogether, make all medicine over-the-counter, and let patients make our own decisions based on guys watching dogs poop on TV. I am thinking not so much.
This is not about stifling information flow, nor is it about shutting down markets. This is about the increasingly important distinction between knowledge and wisdom. What’s the difference? As a friend once pointed out to me in the kitchen: knowledge, is knowing that a tomato is a fruit, and wisdom is knowing not to put tomatoes in a fruit salad.
I imagine that every word of the “poop ad” is true, and that the problem it addresses – OIC (opioid induced constipation) – is real. Those are the facts, but that doesn’t mean that because of a 60 second ad, patients have the wisdom to advocate for a specific treatment. Long-term, we all pay dearly for that.
Brad Hirschfield is the co-founder and co-executive editor of The Wisdom Daily. A rabbi, Brad has been featured on ABC’s Nightline UpClose, PBS’s Frontline, Fox News and National Public Radio. He wrote a long-standing column, “For God’s Sake,” for the Washington Post, and has also written for The Huffington Post and Beliefnet.com. He authored the book, You Don?t Have To Be Wrong For Me To Be Right: Finding Faith Without Fanaticism. Brad also serves as President of Clal, The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership, a leadership training institute, think tank and resource center in New York City.