Business Columns & Blogs

Drugs ads leave us ill at ease

Did you have a few thoughts about ads?

Yeah, I thought you might.

 • A recurring theme over the years in Readers Rate the Ads has been advertising, especially on television, of prescription drugs.

Direct-to-consumer television advertising of prescription medicines may have been a godsend to broadcasters, especially given what’s happened of late in other categories such as autos and airlines, but it surely did no favor for doctors who are constantly pestered by patients about the latest advertised wonder drug.

They haven’t made viewers feel any better either.

“Your column on ads reminded me of my total opposition to ads by makers of drugs,” wrote one News Tribune reader. “No way should they be telling people to tell their doctor what to prescribe for ‘symptoms.’”

One particular type of drug advertising really annoys readers (and it’s so obvious that you get no points for correctly guessing which one).

“Sitting in the living room and having a male enhancement commercial or one of the many (erectile dysfunction) pill commercials airing is not something I look forward to with the granddaughter asking questions,” e-mailed a reader. “Any and all prescription drug commercials should be outlawed. What with government grants and cheap student labor doing so much research on new drugs, it is still beyond belief how much money pharma dumps into adverts and free swag at the doctor’s office along with the golf outings and lunch while still charging as much or more than the market will bear.”

The reader does suggest an interesting way the presentation of drug ads might be copied for other advertising messages: “Maybe we can have warning labels like those in the drug commercials for the upcoming glut of paid announcements.”

The mention of drug-ad disclosures – those lengthy lists of horrific side effects that, in print form, no one reads but which cover drug makers from the inevitable lawsuits – also suggests another change that might make the ads more interesting, if not more palatable. Getting to the point the reader raised about the cost of prescription meds, let’s make drug advertisers list the price of a dose, and the cost of a course of treatment.

 • Simply for sheer volume and variety of ad campaigns, insurer Geico annually gets plenty of mentions. A sampling from readers:

“For years now we’ve been bombarded with its silly ads. They’ve gotten not only sillier, but so frequent that I’m about ready to turn off my radio and TV for good. Often they have multiple ads in the same program break. You can’t escape them anywhere. Warren Buffet is obviously on a conquest, perhaps to do to auto insurance what Wal-Mart did to retail.” (The Oracle of Omaha, in case you didn’t know, owns Geico.)

“Way more gecko and Randy Johnson than anyone would ever need.”

“I really do not like the stupid googly eyes on the stack of money.”

 • What else didn’t you like? A Discount Tire ad showing a little old lady throwing a tire through a window (this is actually a campaign that, according to the company’s website, dates to the 1970s); Progressive Insurance (“Flo needs better writers. Way too much airing”); a Calvin Klein underwear ad shown in a movie theater (“totally tasteless – hard to believe that someone somewhere along the line would not have seen this filth and pulled it before it was ever shown in public”); the Quiznos cats (“I feel like I am posing in Edvard Munch’s ‘The Scream’ every time that commercial comes on and I cannot change the channel fast enough!”).

One reader tackled the big question of how ads are presented, including Internet ads “that cover half the screen of a requested news article for a period of time, or until you find a tiny ‘close’ box,” animation-heavy web ads that gum up a computer, TV and web advertising overloaded with quick-cut images and ads of all formats in which potentially useful information is crow-barred in to the point of being incoherent.

 • The most colorful comments tend to come on ads you hated, but there were some you liked: the National Thoroughbred Racing Association’s radio ads (with a tie-in to Emerald Downs) in which a track announcer calls everyday occurrences like a horse race; the Kia hamsters; the E-Trade babies (“I have actually stopped and reversed a TiVo speed-through to back up and watch one for the chuckle and rest from the other ‘noise.’”).

But a reader who e-mailed that last nomination also lamented, “When will we ever get another ‘I’d like to buy the world a Coke?’ Yes, I was there for the first airing and I still get chills from it.”

 • Readers acknowledged all media are struggling with the necessity of advertising to survive, but also expressed some discomfort with that.

“Although ads help our newspapers survive and help sponsor programs, they remain an outrageous expenditure,” wrote one. Said another, “The amount of money spent on all ads is also discouraging Even nonprofits and charities invest a great deal in buying ads.”

Perhaps those readers would feel more comfortable with the arrangement if they thought they were getting information or entertainment, or both, from advertising. In many cases, they don’t believe they’re seeing or reading either.

“Most major-company commercials are suffering from lack of connection (and) over-exposure, and lost their positive impact,” analyzed one reader. Another requested, “I’d love the advertising community to take us as individuals, not sheep.”

Whether advertisers take those complaints to heart will be revealed in the crop of ads you see in the coming year. Advertising will still be around this time next year. With any luck, Readers Rate the Ads will be too, giving you the chance to say whether there’s been any improvement.

Bill Virgin’s column on business and economics appears Sunday in The News Tribune. He is editor and publisher of Washington Manufacturing Alert and Pacific Northwest Rail News. He can be reached at