Former Pfizer exec: Maybe it’s time for pharma to drop TV ads

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JohnLaMattina, former Pfizer president of R & D, has an article on, “Maybe It’s Time for Drug Companies to Drop TV Ads.”

In it, he reflects on:

  • Paula Deen pushing a diabetes drug;
  • the “intent and implication” of erectile dysfunction ads;
  • and Dr. Robert Jarvik hawking Lipitor, among other topics.

And he concludes:

“If the pharmaceutical industry is really concerned about being better valued by the public, it might do well to drop TV ads completely.  However well-intended they are, the negatives have always outweighed the benefits.  If the members of the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers Association agreed to halt TV ads, my guess is that the public’s response would be overwhelmingly positive.  My sense is that they wouldn’t miss the commercials either.”



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February 15, 2012 at 12:04 pm

It’s about time the HONESTY TORCH was shun on this Industry! This Conversation NEEDS to be Started! This Candid Admission is a Positive Step and must be taken Further! Many addictions started with Pharmaceutical Produced Drugs. Once Hooked, addicts Veers off to More CHEAPER Home produced, Illegal Cocktails, Extracted from these ‘Legal’ Over the Counter Drugs!

Jane Butler

February 15, 2012 at 1:07 pm

I would love to see the pharmaceutical TV ads stop. They are ridiculous and driving the cost of drugs way up. I am not going to ask my doctor to prescribe some drug because a celebrity is endorsing it. I am in my 50’s and do not take any prescription drugs. Too many people ask for a pill first instead of trying lifestyle changes. It is shocking how many hours people sit in front of a TV. Time to get off of your butts and go for a walk, go to the gym, or ride your bike — move!


February 20, 2012 at 10:43 am

Mr. LaMattina gives unintended insight into a part of this problem. The fact that he found ‘informational’ advertising a reasonable plan while he worked for pharma is indicative of the extent to which we are all subject to the influences of the predominant opinion which surrounds us. Mr. LaMattina was amidst those who were arguing pharma’s POV and subject to that group-think.

Individuals in pharma, or any business, are by-and-large honorable people. But, the business of any business, including (but not limited to) pharma, is to make money. Negative results do not make money, so there is a tendency to see those carefully-selected trial results as truly significant, the doesn’t-quite-reach-significance trial as still important to report. It is easy to turn a blind eye to the fact that advertising for a drug which may benefit a small group is worded in a way which makes it easy for the public (physician) to assume it applies to a large, general population. It is easy to ignore the fact that a catchy slogan (let’s see, I believe “low-T” is the one currently irritating me the most) has NOTHING to do with useful information.

This conflict of interest is inherent and irremediable. The tendency to think as do those around us is also inherent not sufficiently amenable to personal effort. This is why pharma reps and advertising personnel and executives can fail to see the slant in their materials. This is why industry cannot be expected to police itself and why controls must come from without.

There is now a significant amount of research showing that even skeptical physicians are not immune to the blandishments of the sales rep. There is good research showing why physicians and their offices should not be allowed ‘gifts’ from reps: it is not the gifts per se, it is the time spent with slanted information. Why on earth should we expect the general public to be better than trained medical personnel at weeding fact from inference? Why would we expect TV advertising would not affect physicians as well as the public?


February 20, 2012 at 6:32 pm

If Big Pharma stops their drug ads it will only be because all the money in the world can’t spin the benefits of these drugs against those endless, amazing, litany of negative side effects (always my favorite part of any of ad). I’m guessing they are just realizing they can push these drugs more easily the less we know about them.