5 Ridiculous Big Pharma ads

I have an ongoing peeve that relates to medication and social attitudes surrounding it: often, for some people on various sides of the political spectrum, trashing Big Pharma translates into trashing people who use prescription medications at all, for a variety of health conditions — especially for chronic conditions, both of the mental health and physical varieties. As a woman with multiple disabilities — a few of which require me to be on medications manufactured by Big Pharma (OOOOOH, SCARY) — I am not, how shall I put it, too excited about this. It’s really nice that stereotypical Extremely Naive Hippie Liberals and Rugged, Anti-Government Bootstrapping Conservatives can, theoretically, bond over how much they mutually hate those of us who take medications for legitimate medical reasons — but even those of us who, normally, would like and/or encourage all of this talk about “building alliances across the [political] aisle” have limits.

In short, there are a lot of things for which you can take Big Pharma to task without also treating the people who depend on these medications like total shit. One of these things is advertising and direct-to-consumer marketing, at which Big Pharma seems to be really quite good! And by “good,” I mean totally ridiculous. Let’s take a look at five different ad campaigns that should never have left a pitch meeting, much less been made with gargantuan budgets, professional actors, and voice-overs that calmly inform the viewer/listener of possible side effects.

5. Cialis: Yes, the one with the make-out music in the background and the couple sitting side-by-side in the bathtubs out in a meadow or something. Why is it so difficult for these folks to find a tub big enough to fit them both?

4. Uloric: Granted, this one may not be as ridiculous as some of the others on this list, but the visual of a dude carrying around a giant beaker of green liquid (which looks suspiciously like it should be in some sort of fancy alcoholic drink that costs upwards of $7) is pretty bizarre, as is the voice-over that helpfully informs viewers that side-effects may include flare-ups of the very condition that Uloric is used to treat. This might be the entire point of the ad, though; since Uloric is a medication intended to help with Gout symptoms, wouldn’t it be more accurate to have the guy wear shoes to which giant beakers are attached? Perhaps we could see a live-action depiction of the 16th-century drawing included in the Wikipedia article on Gout, instead of a guy with a big beaker of neon-green energy drink? That would be awesome, and might get the Gout-is-horribly-painful-and-this-medication-could-help message across in a way that actually makes sense.

3. Lyrica: Every time I see this one, I want to yell at the TV, particularly when the one featuring the classy middle-aged lady who bakes bread has somehow made its hellish way into my precious rerun of Dirty Jobs or another show that I don’t like to admit to enjoying. The actress in this ad pronounces “Fibromyalgia” like it’s a seasonal root vegetable or something (like “FYE-bro-MY-al-GEE-AH”) and all I can do is give the television my most hateful death glare. Oh, and even better is when she says that “My doctor diagnosed it as FYE-bro-MY-al-GEE-AH muscle pain,” and I want to scream, “Lady, IF YOU KNEW what fibro was actually like, you would not be saying that. You would probably be in too much pain on some days to do very much.” Or baking loaves of crusty bread en masse, for that matter. As someone who’s dealt with fibro for the past few years of my life, I only wish I had enough energy to bake many loaves of bread, like the woman in this commercial. Sweet, delicious carbs might help my pain, or at least give me something to focus on other than constant pain and fatigue.

2. Cymbalta: My personal favorite moment is when a kid runs up to hug the woman (presumably a relative?) and the camera focuses on her face, and she just looks so sad that the explanation just has to be terrible acting (or depression, according to the good folks at Eli Lilly). Depression’s symptoms are much, much more complex than walking around looking like the emoticon for sadface [🙁], but you wouldn’t know it by watching this commercial. I think someone should make a parody of ads like this, except that some other person approaches the woman, tells her to “Snap out of it,” and then the woman gives that person the finger–or, more accurately, gives them the 😐 face, because that is what certain aspects of depression make you feel like doing. You’re not only sad all of the time, but often you feel too hopeless to respond to people’s asshattery when they feel the need to comment on your depression and/or tell you that you Just Need To Buck Up.

1. Viagra (“Viva Viagra” spot): Truly the stuff of nightmares. The first time I saw this ad, I was awake at 3 or 4 AM due to pain (go figure, right?) and thought I was hallucinating when the opening chords of “Viva Las Vegas” started up in the opening seconds of this ad. I was, at first, confused as to what that particular song had to do with a medication used to treat erectile dysfunction. And then four middle-aged dudes–one playing a guitar–appeared on the screen and started to sing “VIVA VIAGRA!” to the tune of a song that most people associate with Elvis Presley, or any buddy comedy that has some sort of drunken Vegas montage. If you’re sure that this one won’t give you nightmares, I urge you to find it on YouTube, because it must be seen to be believed. Unfortunately, it’s been replaced in recent months with 30 seconds of yet another middle-aged white dude driving a car around in the dark. The penis = car association makes more sense than hanging out with your best buds and singing about Viagra, I suppose, particularly if you know anything about psychoanalysis.

Readers, what are your least favorite Big Pharma ads, and why? Short descriptions (and links to videos, if you have them) can be helpful for people who may have not seen the ads; please include them, if possible, so that we may all share in the unintentional hilarity.

About Annaham

Annaham (they/them) is a feminist with several disabilities who occasionally updates their personal blog. They currently live in the San Francisco Bay Area with their partner, and an extremely spoiled Yorkie/Pom mix named Sushi. You can reach them by emailing hamdotblog AT gmail dot com.

29 thoughts on “5 Ridiculous Big Pharma ads

  1. The worst part about the horrible, horrible Cymbalta commercials is that Cymbalta saved my life. When I was on Zoloft and all of those commercials were circulating, at least they were CUTE.

  2. I’ve blocked out which drug it’s for, it might be Cymbalta as well, with the ad that depicts a woman with depression as being like a little wind-up doll that needs to be wound, but can’t be wound, so the doll version of the depressed woman stops walking and inexplicably, slumps over.

    The ad was bad enough, then a couple of months later, they remade it with a black actress and the wind-up doll was the same doll, but painted brown.

  3. It’s not really anything to do with the commercial much, but I get really angry and upset when I see a particular commercial for the psych med that really hurt my partner. It’s the typical ad where people look all happy and as though they have perfect lives (presumably because of the medication) at the end. If only.

  4. Lyrica: I don’t even… Seriously, that makes me want to use some of my spoons punching the executives who came up with that in the face.

    Viagra: My first encounter with this spot was during MLB Spring Training earlier this year. Since it is pertinent, I live in the UK and watch baseball – ST through to the World Series- via MLB’s online TV service. And all I can say is, MLB must’ve been getting a small fortune from Pfizer since it was on during every commercial break. I admit, I laughed the first time it was on, solely because it is so damned cheesy. Then it passed quickly into that territory of being like the bad trip that you’re still dealing with years later. *shudder*
    And just when I’d forgotten it ever existed…

  5. Amadi, the drug you’re thinking of is Pristiq, I was going to bring up that same ad. I’m currently on Pristiq and it’s working great for me, but man does the advertising annoy me! I remember when my psychiatrist first switched me on to it, the conversation went something like this:

    Dr: You might have heard of this medicine we’re going to try you on, it’s called Pristiq.
    Me: The one with those ads with the creepy wind up toys?
    Dr: Yeah. *lol* Do you want to be a wind-up toy?
    Me: Not really, but I trust your medical opinion. Wind-up toy it is.

    I find antidepressant ads in general to be mildly ridiculous. “[Antidepressant] will let you enjoy life again! You can do those things you love, like petting dogs or looking at vases or frolicking in fields of wildflowers!” I like to mock them. Though I miss the old Zoloft ads with those little sad egg-creatures.

  6. Those sad little egg creatures freaked me out. Something about the way they moved by bouncing was just disturbing.

  7. The Zoloft commercials made me feel better about being depressed.

    Which penis med commercial had the guy with the giant smile whom every neighbor lady wanted to have sex with? That one, so creepy.

  8. One thing about all the ads that bothers me is “Ask your doctor if X is right for you.”

    I know we have to be our own advocate and do research – but the world is not perfect and sometimes I’m lucky enough to remember what’s been wrong during an appointment until after I walk out and I’m sure other people with chronic illnesses have similar problems. The sicker you are, the more medical work you have to do.

    The Lyrica and Cymbalta ads bother me because they did not work for me and sometimes I’m grumpy about that.

    An OTC ad that’s been bothering me is the Aleve ones – you’re a loser if you don’t take it and take more pills because you take Tylenol. Aleve doesn’t work for everyone. And the ads are just weird – the people take it every day for chronic pain. That doesn’t seem right. (And the one with the woman is aggravating because she does everything kid-related while Dad just sits there, pain free.)

    Milli – it’s Extenze, I think.

    Is it true that in the UK you don’t see non-OTC medication advertisements?

  9. “I miss the old Zoloft ads with those little sad egg-creatures.”
    and their little ladybug friends!

    “Which penis med commercial had the guy with the giant smile whom every neighbor lady wanted to have sex with?”
    Enzyte. it was an herbal “natural male enhancement” pill, so not quite a medication.

  10. Oooh, that Lyrica spot. I do happen to take Lyrica, which has been effective for me – but with that commercial being the most a lot of people know about it and fibro? I’m sometimes not sure I want to admit it.

    I mean, first, there’s the terrible over-acting a la “I’m in so much paaaaaaaaaain. This is my sad paaaaaaaaain face. People in paaaaaaain are always miserable and making wincing faces. Did I mention paaaaain?” Every time I tell someone that I have fibromyalgia, and they say, “Oh, like that commercial!”? That’s when I make that face.

    This is followed by (I couldn’t find the commercial, but my paraphrasing is fairly close), “There are nerves which send signals to the brain!” like it’s some great revelation. Um, you’d be hard-pressed to find someone who was unaware of the existence of nerves; but among people who already know they have fibro and would thus be maybe interested in the drug? Yeah, we know it’s a nerve thing.

    Though the terrible thing, really, is at the end when – through the intervention of Lyrica – everything is just jolly as she’s baking her loaves of bread. As if it will just fix everything. If it works that way for some people, good on ’em. But for more of us? Not so much. It may help, but it sure as heck isn’t a magic fix. I’m glad it’s available, and it has been a good thing for me, personally – it’s the difference between “being able to get out of bed everyday to go to class and function somewhat” and “nearly failing out of school and getting only one meal a day because I couldn’t leave my dorm room”. But I’ve had people assume that, just because I was taking this medication, that it meant I was suddenly back to my old TAB self.

    Gee, thanks, Pfizer marketing folks. There weren’t *nearly* enough misconceptions about my condition before.

  11. I’m so glad prescription advertising to the public is banned in Australia! The OTC ones for cold remedies and allergies are annoying enough.

  12. I miss the Zoloft Adverts. They used to make me feel so much better about being on Zoloft (back in the day). The little dude with his ladybug. That might be the only advert I remember about depression that wasn’t aimed at women.

    Remember the Cymbalta advert with the droopy, sad dog face. You are so fucking depressed you broke your damned dog!

    As someone who both likes to bake bread and who uses Lyrica, I want to beat that commercial with my dough hook. I have to give up halfway through kneading and rolling and let my partner help because I just get too tuckered out, and that is on a low-pain day. I usually wind up making bread once a month if I am lucky and it is all I do all day. FUCK YOURSELF LYRICA ADVERTS.

  13. The Untoward Lady – I don’t know, it just seemed that if it was chronic, you’d talk to your doctor to pick the right OTC/NSAID instead of muddling through on your own. I don’t know much about chronic pain that can be controlled by OTC medications, though.

  14. They have ads for medications on TV?

    Now I’m wondering if this is a country-specific thing or if I’m just *that* out of touch with all things TV.

  15. The one that always confused me, I think it was for Viagra, was the ‘Good Morning’ one, where one woman comes home to her husband. If you sex life is so great, where was your wife last night?

  16. I think Latisse (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Latisse)takes the cake for both the worst prescription med and the worst ad. Latisse solves the problem of not thick enough eye lashes. So, it not only introduces one more thing that’s wrong with our bodies, it also has a side effect of permanent browning of the iris! Most interesting were the ads with Brooke Shields, which didn’t even try to pretend that this is to cure a medical problem. it was pitched as a beautification product that just you just happened to need a prescription for.

  17. I personally hate any advertisement for migraine medication, including OTC stuff, because people who don’t have migraines now think that they do.

    This wouldn’t bother me, except I have chronic migraines and without my preventatives, I would literally have some form of migraine about 3 weeks out of the month. Because of those awful commercials, I constantly hear how I should try to get off my pills, and how I only need Excedrin Migraine when I get one, because that is what works for X person when they have a hangover!

  18. The stupid Orencia commercials for rheumatoid arthritis. Some white / silver haired couple is partying at New Year’s, and then grilled out on 4th of July. The med is supposed to work for 6 mo. BUT! RA strikes mostly younger people in their 20’s and 30’s. Osteo is demographically older folks. So this ad is simply contributing to the idea that RA is the SAME as osteoA, which enrages me, because then *I* get the “oh, my grandma has that too” when I talk about my RA.

    One RA med, forget which, actually has a mom with her kid on a tricycle. That’s totally new and awesome in a correct demographic type of way. Though the creepy x-ray of her RA progressing with her doing sad face is soooo creepy.

  19. Transcription of the video Quijotesca linked. It’s fast & dirty, but I think I caught it all:

    [Woman in black and white, making “achy” faces] My sinuses are so conjested I can’t think.

    Splash Page: TARGET: Women!

    [Sarah Haskins, in Black & White, with a colour background] *cough* Hi there. I’m not feeling well. You can probably tell because I’m in black and white. I’ve got all the classic symptoms. Sleeplessness [Black & White image of someone tossing & turning in bed, from a Tylenol PM ad], staring out windows [Image of a man in black & white staring out a window, from an Abilify ad], and walking sadly in comfy sweaters [Woman in black & white pulling on a long sweater labelled Depression, from an Abilify ad].

    [Sarah is standing in front of a picture with a stuffed bear, an ear-examining thingy, some giant Q-Tips, and a bottle of Pink Gunk] Should I go to the doctor? No! I can diagnose myself by watching t.v. [Image changes to a sillohet walking in front of a pill that ‘helps control asthma day & night] Drug commercials are very instructive. They show you what pain feels like. [Image change sto a woman with a pained expression rubbing her face, labelled “My sinuses are: about to explode”] Many people I know have achy face.

    [Image changes to a woman in black & white, rubbing her face, labelled “My sinuses are: congested”, from Sudafed PE] My sinuses are so conjected I can’t think.
    [Image changes to another woman in black & white, rubbing her face, from Advil Cold & Sinus] Sinus pressure, nasal conjection, pain.
    [Image changes to another woman rubbing her head, in black & white. From Tylenol] It’s what doctors recommend most for headaches.

    Sarah Haskins: Or even Bear Head.

    [Image of a person with a very large stuffed bear head walking down the street, from Afrin]: Feeling stuffed up?

    Sarah Haskins: Sometimes pain means you can barely drop off your kids at the bus stop!

    [Woman in colour! standing in front of an orange school bus]: When I get a migraine, forget it. It’s excruciating. [She rips her head out of the image]

    Sarah Haskins: Lady, there’s a bus full of kids right behind you!

    [Image behind Sarah Haskins is of a nose with a cat, some sunflowers, and some dusters dancing around it] Symptoms of illness can be trigged by anything from cats to great art.

    [Images of fields in black and white, from Patanase ad] Seasonal allergies can happen anywhere and any time, leaving you with a stuffy, runny, sneezy and itchy nose.

    Sarah Haskins with a Groucho Marx mustache & accent: I gotta tell you doc, I think I’m alergic to Monet.
    Dude I don’t know with Groucho Marx mustache & accent: Monet? What gave you that impression?

    Sarah Haskins: Pain isn’t always physical. [Images of women in sweats behind Sarah] If you’ve been feeling down lately, you might want to think of checking yourself for sweat pants. Do this by patting your legs. Do you feel sweat pants? yeah, I have some bad news. You’re depressed.

    [A woman looking incredibly sad, from Cymbalta ad. There’s also a picture of her dog who looks sad and depressed as well.] Depression is emotional. Sadness, loss of interest.

    Sarah: You’re so depressed, you made your dog depressed. Nice going.

    So you’re sick! Thus, your life is ruined. You’re a stranger to your family, you live in black and white, you’ve got this sort of bleh discussion, You’re killing your dog!

    [Image changes to a hand with two tylenol pills in it] Well, here’s my advice, Take those pills! And let your world transform. [Image of a woman smelling flowers and looking happy!]

    [Woman putting on a life jacket on the water, from Claritin Liqui-Gels] I’ve got a great new way to hit back. I get clariten clear.

    [Woman smiles and becomes colourful, labelled “I feel: relieved”, from Sudafed PE]: My sinuses are relieved.

    [Image of a woman’s face in black & white is broken through by a woman running, with brigh tcolours!from Advis Cold & Sinus] You can suffer through them, or you can power through them. with advil cold & sinus.

    Sarah: [Image of a woman and man helping a child on a bike, changing to a woman holding a child and laughing, sharing a family meal, making dinner] Just look! Drugs bring colour, nicer outfits, and Children back into our lives! I’m better just from taking drugs. And now that you’re colourful you won’t have to worry about any of those horrific side effects.

    [Family helping child on bike, from Trexiet ad] A life-threatening problem may occur especially if used with anti-depressants.

    [Woman shopping for clothes, from Cymbalta ad – I think this is the first non-white looking woman shown] Severe liver problems, some fatal were reported.

    [Man looking at reports from an Abilify ad] Extreme high blood sugar can lead to coma or death.

    [Woman walking from Patanase ad] Side effects may include bitter taste, headache, nose bleeds, sores in your nose.

    Sarah: Got rid of the allergies, got the nose sores. Cabn’t win them all. Oh, blood.

    Turn on the t.v. and Get well soon.

    [Off-screen narrator]: Warning: watching Target Women can lead to alcoholism, cycicism, and small amounts of Marxisim. [Groucho Marx voice] I mean Marxisim!

  20. Nice work, Anna.

    Now I’ve got to check myself for sweatpants…(checks) Nah, still flannel pajama pants covered in adorable gnomes. I guess I’ve got one thing going for me.

  21. We don’t get prescription drug adverts in the UK as they are banned, but we get a fair number of OTC medication adverts. There is a product called Dulco-Ease which is meant to ease bowel problems (which sort aren’t specified in the ads). The ads always feature women, and talk about bowel problems making you feel “less than feminine”, as if men don’t have bowels as well.

  22. The Lyrica commerical I hate even more than the breadmaking woman is the one with the woman walking around the European-looking town square-type place who announces, “Lyrica is not an anti-depressant!” Because I JUST KNOW they’re trying to reel in people who think they were offered anti-depressants to treat chronic pain because their doctors thought it was all in their heads*, when anti-depressants are actually helpful for pain in some people.

    Also, I love (read: hate) the Cymbalta commercials just because they don’t even list the side effects I suffered, most of which I STILL HAVE even though I haven’t taken Cymbalta in over a year. UGH.

    (And I’m generally tired of people finding out I have fibro and saying, “Oh, there’s a drug for that! I saw it on TV!” Yes, I’ve tried it. Doesn’t work for me. Stop ‘helping.'” But that’s another post altogether. *grrface*)

    *I know some doctors do offer anti-depressants to fibro patients because they actually think it’s all in our heads. I’ve had more than one of those doctors. 😛

  23. Dani!! *waves* I don’t have cable, so I’ll throw in my weight behind Dani and echo that I hate it when people say “Oh, there’s a pill for x disorder! If you take it, you’ll be just fine like my friend/aunt/dog/whomever they knew took it.”


    Speaking of Fibermyalgia, saw a bumper sticker today that said “Fibermyalgia – it’s real.” Was pretty awesome.

  24. It’s funny, because my mother has fibromyalgia, and one of the ways in which dealt with her condition was baking bread. Not mass amounts, because that would be pushing the limits of both herself, her finances, and her stove, but she makes two loaves every few days. She showed me her method and it isn’t labor intensive at all. (The method can actually be found here: http://steamykitchen.com/168-no-knead-bread-revisited.html ) It’s not even something that sends her into bed for the rest of the day, the way a lot of other activities do. She says she finds it relaxing, and that doing something with her hands makes them hurt less.

    Of course, Lyrica gave her seizures, so, it’s a little ironic to see one of her methods of dealing with her fibro be associated with that particular drug.

  25. There’s an Abilify commercial that always gets me because it involves a woman walking down a trail. I took Abilify for a really short time and it gave me akathisia, meaning I had trouble sitting still and wanted to spend all day pacing the house. It’s a pretty common side effect, so the commercial always makes me think the poor woman is walking because she just doesn’t feel like she can stop. :/

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