Monday, September 10, 2012

Medicines, Disclaimer, and the Social Media

The dynamics of medicine promotion have changed over the past years. Advertisements may be circulated through any form of mass medium, which, in the traditional sense, is limited to print, radio, and television. Nowadays, advertisements have invaded the internet platform, and has infiltrated social media. Here are my views and opinions about pharmaceutical brands' online campaigns.

Medicine Advertisements in Traditional Media
Way back in 2009, my professor in Medico Legal gave us an assignment to evaluate the current advertisements of medicines (including alternative medicines) in print, radio, and television. Dr. B has stressed the use of the phrase "No Approved Therapeutic Claim" as a disclaimer on alternative medicines which have been gaining popularity and were increasing in number. Our task is to inform the publisher or broadcasting networks whether or not the advertisements being played or printed comply with The Consumer Act of the Philippines (RA 7394).

The results of our evaluation showed that some of the companies, specifically those promoting herbal or traditional drugs have failed to comply in including the disclaimer in their advertisements. We finished our assignments by writing the concerned publishers and broadcasting networks about our observation. Unfortunately, we did not follow up whether the concerned parties took some action to rectify their ads.

After a little less than one year, the Department of Health, in an attempt to protect the general public from any misleading information, has disallowed the use of the phrase "No Approved Therapeutic Claim" and instead strictly enforced the standard message which states, "MAHALAGANG PAALALA: ANG (name of product) AY HINDI GAMOT AT HINDI DAPAT GAMITING PANGGAMOT SA ANUMANG URI NG SAKIT."

As if to say that the generic disclaimer is lacking, DOH now wants to get the message across and has even translated it to Filipino, which, admittedly, has a stronger impact than the original almost-meaningless disclaimer. However, I have yet to see any supplement containing the caveat.

What's wrong with our advertisements?
A friend from Germany told me once how dangerous our medicine advertisements are. Our television ads focus much on the endorser's smile, body, or how a certain drug has been such a miraculous healer. Our medicine ads focus much on the drug's safety, reliability, affordability. However, our medicine ads are too lenient and too skimpy on the information about the particular drug.

Let me give you a simple comparison between magazine advertisements published in our country and those published outside.

Taken from Ladies' Home Journal, April 2011 issue, pages 78 to 80:

Three pages of a medicine advertisement with separate "Important Patient Information" section is a common form of drug ads in foreign magazines.

Taken from Good Housekeeping (USA), November 2010 issue, pages 20-21:

In this advertisement, possible side effects and other important safety information about the product are provided. A consumer brief summary is also printed on the following pages (22-24, not in photo).

 Drug advertisements both printed in the Cosmopolitan (Philippines) December 2008 issue:
Just plain advertisement, no drug information is available.

Everybody would definitely say that the baby is cute. But that's beside the point.
A simple internet research would lead you to a website stating the possible side effects of Calpol.
This drug advertisement does not mention of any.

The power of the internet has been utilized by almost everybody, including pharmaceutical companies. Medicine advertisements have also invaded the social media, apart from the staple tv, radio, and print ads. Social Media advertising is present in blogs, Facebook, and recently, there have been giveaways and contests where participants are encouraged to disseminate medicine advertisements through their facebook and twitter accounts.

Now, if the pharmaceutical companies cannot provide us with the proper information about their drugs in print ads, how can they now give us these basic information through social media advertising? 

Advertisers are building communities through social media, but honestly, I am more loyal to a certain type of brand because of how it works and not because I'm one of their Facebook Page fans. I may like a certain page because of their promos, but I don't necessarily patronize their products more because of it.

Consumers need basic information about drugs and medicines and we must demand  these from pharmaceutical companies. Their presence in social media must be balanced by being transparent through the availability of information about their products.

The use of violence in commercials
Honestly, I rarely watch television. And when I do, I skip from one channel to another when it's advertisement time. I've only noticed some medicine commercials, particularly that of Saridon, through the Youtube videos, and can't help but notice the harshness of how the product was presented. Can you imagine nails being driven at your head?!

Saridon's commercials attempt to be funny, and it's not too far from the Vic Sotto movies where the latter would make "funny but definitely hurtful gestures" to his sidekick. Saridon's commercial might be apparently violent, but it's not too far from Solmux' commercial where Aga Muhlach suggested that a child's back be slammed by a gorilla to get the phlegm out. The latter may not be too harsh, but the suggestion of violence is still present. To refresh your memory about the gorilla scene, here's a youtube video of it:

I frown at the use of violence in commercials. But as someone who is not really very fond of television, and someone who has actually planned on limiting my future kids' television exposure, I think that it is already the responsibility of parents and elders to teach their kids, regulate what to watch and guide them on how to react to what they see. As with Saridon's commercial, I find myself neutral.