To many television and print advertisers, poor health is the essential and most noteworthy characteristic of old people. As far as Crabby Old Lady can tell, it could be the only thing advertisers know about elders.
Diabetic nerve pain, rheumatoid arthritis, heart arrhythmia, blood clots, insomnia, hepatitis C, osteoporosis, dry eye, dementia, COPD, shingles and cancer – lots of cancer: cervical, breast, melanoma, lung and more.
So familiar is the constant barrage of television commercials for drugs to treat those diseases, conditions and more, Crabby was able to make that list off the top of her head. She's betting you could do that too.
No prescription drug commercial can end without a recitation of the often horrendous side effects, delivered at the verbal speed of an auctioneer and almost always ending with “death.”
Like Crabby Old Lady, you may have noticed that none of these drugs, at least as described in television commercials, actually cure any of the ailments they were created for.
That is because (here is Crabby at her most cynical) the pharmaceutical companies know there is no profit in making people healthy. Treatment – ongoing, lifetime treatment – is the business of big pharma that keeps the big bucks rolling in via refill after refill after refill for a patient's lifetime.
Did you know that New Zealand and the United States are the only countries in the world that permit advertising to consumers of prescription drugs? There is a reason the other 191 countries disallow it: only doctors have the training, knowledge and understanding of an individual patient's medical issues to choose appropriate medications.
If that isn't a good enough reason, think of how much money all that TV advertising adds to the price of prescription drugs.
All those are just the straightforward, direct-to-consumer drug commercials. But Crabby Old Lady's cyber-friend, Chuck Nyren, who blogs at Advertising for Baby Boomers and has written a book with that title, has noticed a new, more insidious development in drug advertisements aimed at old people.
Not long ago, Chuck titled a blog post We're All Sick and led with this:
”No matter what the product or service, when Mad Ave tries to ‘reach’ us we’re always sick. Or something’s horribly wrong. Even if they want us to buy a car we have to be sick first:
This commercial takes the universally-assumed poor health of elders to a whole new level: Lookee here, it says - we the car company have a cure for whatever ails you. Chuck continues:
“What happened to this lady? Did she have a heart attack? The doctor says she has to ‘go slow’. Well, whatever her affliction is, she’ll get better if she buys this car. And exercises. And is looked after by her daughter.
“According to most ads selling stuff to Boomers, we have to be sick before we can buy anything. Or, we’re naturally ill all the time and the only reason we’d buy anything is to make us well...When you’re old, you only buy products for medical reasons.
“I googled the car and it’s a pretty good car. But the spot tells me nothing about the car. Of course, why would I want to know anything about the car? All I need to know is that it has healing powers.”
You can read more of Chuck at his blog.
There is a kind of awful genius to deliberately portraying old people as sick and vulnerable to sell them an expensive car. Or how about laundry detergent. Or a new sofa. "Game changer," as the actor says in one home furnishings commercial.
Expect to see more, many more sick old people portrayed in all kinds of commercials. In December, The New York Times reported on the enormous increase in the number of television prescription drug commercials. Some excerpts:
”According to Kantar Media, a firm that tracks multimedia advertising, 771,368 such ads were shown in 2016, the last full year for which data is available, an increase of almost 65 percent over 2012.
“'TV ad spending by pharmaceutical companies has more than doubled in the past four years, making it the second-fastest-growing category on television during that time, Jon Swallen, Kantar’s chief research officer, said.”
As The Times also points out, it is old people who use the majority of prescription drugs and that's why big pharma saturates TV with commercials for diseases of age:
“'In the old days, it was allergies and acid reflux and whatnot, [Thomas Lom, a consultant and former senior executive at several health care ad agencies] said. 'Now, it’s cardiology issues. It’s cancer.'
That, of course, reflects the medical issues facing audiences that skew older.
“'The drug companies aren’t generally marketing to people in their 30s; they’re marketing to the 65-plus, and that’s the population that tends to still be watching television,' said Allen Adamson, a brand strategy consultant.”
Certainly they will have no trouble figuring out other media buys for commercials as younger generations age.
Now that Ford has broken the ice by implying their car can cure a sick old person of an unnamed malady, Crabby Old Lady has no doubt other non-medical consumer products will soon follow suit, possibly sharing commercial production costs by partnering with the manufacturer of a brand-name prescription drug. (Oh, is Crabby being too cynical?)
What this means for Crabby and all elders is that the main description of old people as sickly will be perpetuated indefinitely in the minds of everyone.