If you want to understand the way prescription drugs are marketed today, have a look at the 1928 book, “Propaganda,” by Edward Bernays, the father of public relations in America.
For Bernays, the public relations business was less about selling things than about creating the conditions for things to sell themselves. When Bernays was working as a salesman for Mozart pianos, for example, he did not simply place advertisements for pianos in newspapers. That would have been too obvious.
Instead, Bernays persuaded reporters to write about a new trend: Sophisticated people were putting aside a special room in the home for playing music. Once a person had a music room, Bernays believed, he would naturally think of buying a piano. As Bernays wrote, “It will come to him as his own idea.”
Just as Bernays sold pianos by selling the music room, pharmaceutical marketers now sell drugs by selling the diseases that they treat. The buzzword is “disease branding.”
To brand a disease is to shape its public perception in order to make it more palatable to potential patients. Panic disorder, reflux disease, erectile dysfunction, restless legs syndrome, bipolar disorder, overactive bladder, ADHD, premenstrual dysphoric disorder, even clinical depression: All these conditions were once regarded as rare until a marketing campaign transformed the brand.
Once a branded disease has achieved a degree of cultural legitimacy, there is no need to convince anyone that a drug to treat it is necessary. It will come to him as his own idea…
It is hard to brand a disease without the help of physicians, of course. So drug companies typically recruit academic “thought leaders” to write and speak about any new conditions they are trying to introduce. It also helps if the physicians believe the branded condition is dangerous.
Interesting article. There is an obvious parallel in American politics. The Madison Avenue thugs who worked for the Bush, Cheney and Rove troika being the leading example.
RTFA and reflect upon cultural advances like “I’m always peeing in my pants” becoming “overactive bladder” – or how shyness was transformed into social anxiety disorder.