A couple of months ago I was working at my desk when I saw this on TV:
I hate to say it, but I thought it was a joke. Perhaps it was because I had just been watching something humerous and it’s about a subject that I’d never heard about before, but I didn’t take it seriously. At first I thought it was an SNL skit; by the end of the commercial I was just confused. I actually had to google the disorder to figure out if I should laugh or learn.
Once I realized that it wasn’t a joke, I assumed it was a commercial by a charity trying to raise awareness. The ad was a little odd, but non-profits know that fundraising can be a daunting task and sometimes it takes thinking outside the box to see results. Joe Saxton, charity impact and communications consultant, warns charities not to fear being bold and making a statement.
One of the most important things that charities have is their voice and so they should self-censor with great reluctance. Indeed, I would always advise charities to err on the side of boldness not caution because in today’s world advertising that is just wallpaper in people’s busy lives is a waste of money
There seems to be a correlation between shocking marketing and increased fundraising income. Just ask these charities:
- St. John’s Ambulance: Helpless, 2012
- Peta: I’d Rather Go Naked, 1991
- National Health Service: Get Unhooked From Smoking, 2007
- Center for Science in the Public Interest: The Real Bears, 2012
But, after doing some research and searching the website featured on the commercial, I realized that it was actually an ad for Avanir Pharmaceuticals! Most industrialized countries ban mass marketing of prescription drugs, except the USA and New Zealand. Canada, while it doesn’t completely ban it, only allows a company to either name a medical condition OR name the product for sale (see: wikipedia). Studies have shown a link between DTCA (direct to consumer advertising) and patients requesting those drugs and doctors prescribing them.
I still find the commercial confusing; it’s a bit too serious to be a joke, it’s a bit too funny to be a charity ad, and it’s a bit too random to make sense (to me) as a drug commercial. It feels like a useless commercial, however I can’t stop thinking about it. I haven’t been able to get it out of my head since I saw it for the first time. Does this make it a successful marketing strategy? I do not have any experience with PBA, but I wonder if I did, or knew someone who did, would I be talking to my doctor? This raises some ethical questions for me as I am immediately taken back to my battle with depression. I was put on medication fairly quickly once I was diagnosed. I did try some other methods (like cognitive behavioural therapy), but not until I was already on drugs. I remember getting some free sample to try from my doctor before getting a full prescription. I can’t help but wonder if the path I took had something to do with pharmaceutical marketing and makes me question the morality of these marketing tactics.
All companies, charities and for profit, are in the business of making money and with that strange and bold marketing tactics are often part of the deal. However, once they become offensive or misleading should ethics and/or policy play a role in what is tolerated?