Cancer and an Altered Self-Image

Crabby Old Lady on Advertising Drugs to Old People

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.


Boy you hit the nail on the head. Not only are these ads annoying they are a constant reminder of our afflictions whether its cancer, diabetes or some other malady. I dont need to be reminded 50 times a day that I have cancer. Im about ready to give up on TV especially since a half hour show is 15 minutes of the show and 15 minutes of ads.

Is the relentless pushing of medication on television a form of psychological abuse?

The fast talking voice over with a list of side effects?

Who names these drugs?

Doofus names of "new" drugs?

"Are you dragging your a$$ to work every day? You need ZOrtolagaruzzzm."

"Side effects include projectile barfing on the subway, sudden urge to strangle your spouse, burning itchy £*^%."

Cut to a happy pill popper doing Belushi backflips down his driveway.

Is about $ or is it about control?

Is med pushing about keeping people from standing up for what's right?

The other reason for the proliferation of these on TV is that we are assumed to be among the last of the cord-cutters. Who watches TV with ads these days?

I cut the cord and don't have "commercial" centric TV anymore. I agree advertising drugs should be illegal.

I had no idea that New Zealand the U.S. are the only countries allowing advertising of prescription drugs, but find that very interesting. Of course there are all the other things too, that anyone can make a buck on, which are revealed quickly when tuning into daytime TV: walk-in tubs, medical alert buttons, all the fun and dignity delivered with Meals-on-Wheels, holy water that, for a donation, will solve of life's problems. . . it's enough to drive anyone over the edge -- or maybe that's what the Magic Car is for.

Doctafill -- I loved your comment. You are masterful at coupling humor with affirmation of some of my feelings of what's behind all this.

I also have big problem with TV ads showing the adult child going on line to do the research on the senior's condition or the medication. This enforces the myth that older people cannot and do not have the capability to do their own internet searches. At the very least, couldn't we show another older person working alongside the other one, indicating friendship & community? Not everyone has or needs a much younger person to help.

Then...flip the channel and see law firm ads inviting the old sick, medicated "victim" to join the class action lawsuit for those very drugs!!?

Good one, doctafill!

Actually, what would be good is a car with 'Depends" seats. Then we wouldn't have to worry! LoL. Love your perspective. I think you've mentioned Joseph Coughlin's The Longevity Economy. Starting to provide the basis of an antidote to the focus of most products on 30 years and under.

When socialized medicine became more entrenched in our capitalized society, the government had to do some things to get docs and other health care providers to "buy off on" taking care of a Medicare patient for $150 /office visit and getting paid $75. And no they cannot bill the patient for the difference.
One of the things used to sweeten the pot for the providers of health care, that then became allowable, was advertising. I am old enough to remember when physicians did NOT advertise. Only quacks did.
Also caps were set on award monies for winning a law suit against a negligent doctor.
Obstacles for suing a health care provider were put in place to include mandatory arbitration.
Drug companies were allowed to advertise aggressively and list all the things that could possibly happen if you take the medication and therefore you cannot sue them for bad outcome since you were "educated" to risks before choosing to take that med.
Also, Advance Directives were offered, nay, advertised to patients to get us to say NO ahead of time to aggressive care at the latter stage of life. My philosophy as a human being is never say NO ahead of time! My philosophy as a nurse was to never say NO for another human being, nor assume that a patient does not want to live another day.
These are huge dilemmas and I don't have the answers of course. But I do think I will stay involved with the news and discussions and basically trust my gut.

I actually think that Ford commercial sends a more positive message about elderly people than you're giving it credit for. The fact is a lot of people in our peer age bracket DO get sick, we DO have adult kids who step in to help with our recoveries. (And those who don't have kids who help us might wish that we did.) The women in the commercial are shown has having fun working toward a goal and accomplishing that goal of improving the woman's health and doing quality activities. I think it's a real stretch to paint this commercial in a negative way. It's a believable scenario.

My Hunky Husband is a real conservative (to the right of Attila the Hun, he says); but, he laments the ads now appearing "everywhere" - that used to be verboten.

I agree that drug ads are a drag. When I see one I listen to all the side effects and then say, "other than that, it's great." Because the side effects sound a lot worse to me than the disease.

On the other hand, I think your blogger has misinterpreted the intent of the car ad. The doctor says, "go slow." The mother and daughter exchange a look that says, "like that's going to happen." Then they go off and do various exercises together. The ad implies that this woman is going to say "to hell with going slow" and use her wonderful car to do otherwise. It's one of those "you don't have to act your age" ads that are annoying in their own way.

I agree that the ads appear ad naseum and basically scare the h___ out of me. Over and above all that most of them are not within my budget. I don't have mediacare advantage because it's not portable and we travel a lot. Plus I don't take enough medication to make it worth the premiums and deductibles. So for my chronic pain from coxydemia I'm going back to my acupuncturist. I should never have left him for shots and pills that have never helped. He has. There are alternatives and a mute button.

It used to be booze and cigarette ads - now we are unundated with drug ads. Guess it was from all the booze and cigs we consumed ...

I may be wrong (I so often am) but I remember when it was illegal for drug companies to advertise. I don't remember when that changed, but you can bet your sweet bippies that Big Pharma bought off enough Congress members who repealed that law. Money is always more motivating than ethics and it has only gotten much worse.

Well, you did it. You got me to watch an ad. (Joking) Except that 'mom' looked surprisingly youthful, and athletic as all get out, it wasn't too bad as those things go.

Frankly, I just don't watch ads. When they interrupt a program that I am interested in, usually from 1 to 3 minutes at a whack, I either pick up a book, or (remember, we have been told ad nauseum that we are old people with insecure bladders) I will take a bathroom break.

But except for public television, which has its own, less disturbing, brand of commercial time outs, and except for that basketball team which I favor, commercial TV has few attractions. So, I don't bother.

I'd love to have the secret as to how to prevent this type of advertising from reaching unwary viewers. ..

You want cynicism? Here's cynicism: wait for the car companies to get self-driving cars to market, and THEN imagine the targeting of old people whose eyes won't allow them to drive anymore!

I would also recommend making all the costs of those adds NOT TAX DEDUCTIBLE, not deductible off the business bottom line. Really, we are also paying for the adds in addition to being insulted, bamboozled and mislead.

Remember the old Nancy Reagan ad on drugs? Just Say No... that's my rule. There are several good books out there on over medication and one dr. suggested setting a rule of no more than 4 prescription drugs at any one time. The side effects of more than 4, essentially cancel out the benefits of one or more of the drugs you're already taking.

I too remember fondly the days when drugs could not be advertised. That's one part (and about the only one) of The Orange Apparition's 'Murica that I wouldn't mind returning to. I think it was one of the worst days in American healthcare history when Big Pharma and its lobbyists bought off Congress to approve direct to consumer advertising.
I fully accept that I have no medical training so I simply tune out the ads. I clean the cat box, fold laundry or take a bathroom break.

I discuss my health concerns with my doctor and feel that I am not influenced by the advice of a TV pitch-person. I don't watch a lot of TV anymore--15 minutes of programming usually isn't worth 15 minutes of ads--although we have ours on as "background noise" during the day, and I do watch some political commentary shows.

At 81, the reality is that I'm not in as good shape physically as I was 20 years ago. I take low doses of 3 Rx drugs now, and I think that many people in my age range probably do. My life would be completely dominated by pain and much more unpleasant without a couple of them. However, health issues should NOT define us any more than they do a 40 Y/O who has asthma and acid reflux disease.

This & other annoying ads is why I tape everything that I want to watch & make frequent use of FastForward. Most tv ads these days are silly, stupid or revolting so I don't expect any positive or enlightening information. They just want my money anyway=bottom line.

I mute most all ads on TV. The drug ads I sometimes see I write down the name of the medication and go to Good RX to check out the price. Just curious. Most of the tv advertised ones are so expensive They are obscene. I depend on my doctor for drug info and am thankful for him and his nurse. She actually answers the phone or calls right back. A rarity these days.
Did you notice during the super bowl last night there was not a single drug ad. I guess the drug companies think we elders are too out of it to even watch football . Or maybe it's too much if a downer to talk about illness during a "rah rah" time. And Super Bowl ads cost something like 5 million for 30 seconds.

First, I do not like drug ads, and they seem to be shown mostly on the nightly news which makes me think only older people are watching network news now.

Second, my husband and I have seen the Ford ad (i actually didn't know the car's brand until this post so it couldn't be too effective) and we love the spirit of the mom and her daughter. Take it easy. Hah! Watch us go! That's my response to medical providers.

I also love the ads for pension companies that show a person's work life compressed into a few seconds and the ability to walk away from work and walk into a planned retirement. Those ads make me so happy. Maybe because it reminds me of my own life. It went so quickly, but here it is, retirement and having fun.

Oh for the good ol’ advertising days when life was simpler with just non-life threatening “B.O.” and “Bad Breath” we learned was really “Halitosis”!

I simply push the "mute" button during commercials...we have an antenna and do not need a cable provider to watch over 29 channels including PBS and KCET. When the commercials start they are louder that the previous program and hurt my ears, not to add my sensibilities....I only take one med for my osteoporosis once weekly, and eye drops for glaucoma...no need for anything else.

Yes, I have osteoarthritis but try not to take an anti-inflamatory as do not want kidney damage....but sometimes I do need to take one. My husband and I consider the fast food ads as "food porn" as we are very careful about what we eat.... We concur with the past genius who said "food is medicine and medicine is food" (need to google who said it). As far as we are concerned, it has proven to be true.

It is such a shame we have to wait once a year for the "big game" to see commercials that are a little more imaginative. It bums me out all the advertisements these days that use "popular" music (hits from the past and the present). Very rarely do you get ads that have creative jingles (plop, plop, fizz, fizz, oh what a relief it is!) (Two all beef patties, etc.). Commercials these days are rarely creative and even less memorable. Drug company ads are the worse. Like a previous poster commented, they seem to think that only "seniors" watch the news and reruns.

American "exceptionalism" is as patriotic to GOPers and Trumpsters as standing for the National Anthem shows your love of country. Sometimes this "exceptionalism" is exceptionally stupid, like allowing vulnerable citizens to be decimated by ginned-up RX ads that saturate TV today from start to finish with promises to cure what's ailing you. "Our Daily Meds" is a book that blows the doors off the insidious, greedy money model American lawmakers let Big Pharma dragnet across citizens of all ages. There was a time when a reporter like Walter Cronkite, who turned the tide in Vietnam in 1968 with his "Report from Vietnam" that called the war a "stalemate," would take these ads and the companies behind them to task. Washington legislators who allow this commercial travesty to go on, because pharmaceutical companies can reap billions each year in the process, then kick bucks back to them in campaign contributions, are also guilty of malpractice. But local TV stations and all the national ones have a monied-interest to appear oblivious to this commercial pillaging of seniors, who to no one's surprise age, get seriously sick along the way since we are mere mortals, then die. Beware Millenials, the Grim Reaper will have his day with you, no exceptions. Recording programs to pause them or fast-forward through commercials allows you to pause Rx ads long enough to actually read the "fine print" in the ads that basically say, this Rx may not do for you what it's supposed to do. Caveat emptor is good advice. You likely didn't graduate from medical school, and talking to your doctor to "see if (bogus Rx) is right for you" is basically BS, but it sounds smart. Ban Rx advertising. That would be an exceptionally good idea!

Drug ads should go back to being prohibited. It undermines the medical profession and as my husband's MD opined, they only advertise the really
expensive options -- otherwise, there would be no point in any of these ads, and the ads increase the price of the new drugs, whether they are useful or not.

I watched the commercial and if you ask me, it looks like the daughter was trying to kill her mom off. Doctor says go slow, and daughter lines up a marathon of strenuous events. Yikes!

My husband and I have many black humor jokes about these pervasive drug commercials. The drug companies certainly don't want "satire" to be the main response to their expensive TV spots, so we make sure that it is.
The video of white-haired "patients" running simultaneously with the dire side effects is especially rich, in my view. The happy picnickers, laughing hikers, creative geniuses with potters' wheels, etc. give no indication that death or four-hour erections or suicidal thoughts "may happen" as a result of this medicine.
I can no more imagine "asking my doctor about 'XXyttllol' in our allotted 15 minute visit time than asking her for stock tips. Drug merchants may think they're selling to us, but they don't "get" our reality at all.

I think the ads manipulate patients and doctors both.

The patient asks the doctor "should I be taking this medicine?"

Unless he knows for sure that this is not a good idea, he can be called to account for his decision by the patient or by the drug company, later .

Will he now have to research the drug-- good move for drug company.

The doctor knows if the patient is asking,the patient will feel good if the doctor says --"why yes, we can put you on that" and doctor doesn't have the time to explain why something else might work better or who knows what else.

There are so many other issues around this subject that can't be proven or said, as the game is so well played.

Thank yo u so much for eloquently articulating one of my pet peeves. Among my favorite ads is "What should we do with Mom"? Also love the one for erectile dysfunction, showing the couple sitting in separate bathtubs wondering why they aren't having sex. On a more serious note, drug companies no longer exist to cure disease through research. They now have designer illnesses or conditions, such as secondary depression, add another pill, just in case you are not getting the wanted results. it is endless. As a retired nurse, I can tell you that patients, or older people, are put on meds that are never reassessed and other Docs put them on other meds, there is very little continuity of care especially, if the older person is on their own. Daytime ads and middle of the night ads are all directed at older people, burial ins., stairlifts, constipation relief, medic alerts it is endless and depressing. thanks for your thoughts and recognition of this problem

As someone who has directed a Canadian-based non-profit organization which services and advocates for an International rare disease community for the past 20 years the life-and-death decisions our clients must make about medications are never far from my mind.

Drug advertising is *not* allowed in Canada, nor are pharmaceutical companies allowed to give physicians perks for prescribing X number of their products, from pens and scratchpads to lunches/ golfing holidays and "medical conventions" on luxury cruises, all of which are allowed under US law. The theory that advertising, and its perks, are somehow a way of "making up" for doctors having to treat patients on Medicare doesn't hold up when the US is the only developed nation in the world without a universal health care system.

If you have questions about a medication go to RXList with dot com afterwards. There is a comprehensive list of medications with plain English explanations of how each drug works, any interactions with other drugs, all reported side effects, who should be careful taking it, dosage and *everything* you ought to know. This is anti-advertising - what the drug company would like to hide if allowed.

The site "Engaged Patients" has incredible resources, including several styles of health journals you can print out page by page which any medical team can pick up and know exactly what medication you take, what you are allergic to, what your wishes are should you be unable to speak for yourself. We've learned that it's absolutely imperative that every person, especially elders, have an organized binder which they can take with them to every medical appointment. You'd be surprised what knowledge flies out of your head in a crisis. I get calls at all hours from client's family or doctors asking what drugs / anesthesia is safe. You think you'll remember but fear and anxiety prevail.

Drugs will not make us young again, but they can help make us comfortable, slow down disease process and prolong our lives. Without mine (one of which costs $275,000 USD a year) I would be dead, as I suspect would many of us. But just take the ones you have to have and only the dose prescribed.

We all know someone like Granddad, who in the 1940's lived with his daughter Nancy (who was of a "certain" age), her husband Leon and their four girls, 12-19. Granddad had the bad habit of getting into the medicine cabinet and taking other family members' medicines, until one day Nancy caught him taking a swig of her Lydia Pinkham's Compound. Nancy pulled the bottle from his hand saying, "Dad, you can't take that! That's for female trouble!" Pulling himself up to all of his 5'6" he pronounced with great dignity, "Then I ought to take a second dose, cause I got plenty of female trouble in *this* house!" (I don't think it did him any harm)

Stay well, "Old Timers" (In reference to the name of Ronni's blog - not our age of course!)

Great post. I see lots of these TV ads and also in magazines, but not on the internet so much and only on my Facebook feed if I belong to some elder group. So they target their audience. Young people don't watch TV or read magazines. They stream everything and usually pay to avoid ads. I DVR everything on TV, so I can whip past the ads or I stream Netflix etc.

I'm old, live in the land of the old (Fla.) and frankly don't give a flip about these ads and I hear no one talking about them. By that I mean we all just go about our lives enjoyinging it and the hell with them and their biases.

We know it's not true that all old people are sick. There is plenty of proof here that elder life can be a ball and screw 'em. Stress among the younger generations is much higher than for us and their health issues are on the rise from it. We have arrived at a peaceful free life at last. Bad health can hit anyone young or old. Enjoy what you have and ignore these fools.

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