How to brand a disease — and sell a cure

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.


Drug companies con the public with minimal advances in medicine

Drug companies have been accused of conning the public in a report that claimed more than four fifths of new medicines offer few benefits.

An estimated 85 per cent of drugs coming onto the market offer only slight advances on existing treatments while having the potential to cause serious harm due to toxicity or misuse, the study concluded…

”Sometimes drug companies hide or downplay information about serious side-effects of new drugs and overstate the drugs’ benefits,” said Prof Donald Light, a professor of comparative health policy at the University of Medicine and Dentistry in New Jersey.

”Then, they spend two to three times more on marketing than on research to persuade doctors to prescribe these new drugs. Doctors may get misleading information and then misinform patients about the risks of a new drug. It’s really a two-tier market for lemons.”

He alleged that the pharmaceutical industry owned companies in charge of drug testing and provided ”firewalls” of legal protection behind which information about dangers or lack of effectiveness could be be hidden.

Companies were assisted by the ”relatively low bar” for effectiveness that had to be crossed to get a new drug approved…

”A few basic changes could improve the quality of trials and evidence about the real risks and benefits of new drugs. We could also increase the percentage of new drugs that are really better for patients.”

In his paper, Prof Light concluded: “The evidence here indicates that the two-tier market for prescription drugs is the largest and most dangerous market for lemons in modern society. Neither wars nor used car injuries come close.

Nothing that a lot of us haven’t recognized for years; but, it’s always helpful to see legitimate studies provide some ammo against the greedy bastards running the pharmaceutical industry.

I’ve long felt the barrage of advertisements in the mass media for prescription drugs should be outlawed like cigarettes. If they’re beneficial, your physician will have learned about them. Otherwise, the pharma giants are just building artificial demand with their propaganda.

Adverts for ‘Valentine’s Day’ remove gay characters

Valentine’s Day is coming! And with it the usual traditions that include an outrageous price hike in roses, an outrageous price hike in restaurant dining, and the well-timed rom-com. The role of the latter belongs to a flick to be released on Feb. 12, “Valentine’s Day.” (What a clever title, eh?)

However, from the posters and trailers for the film it is hard to know that the infamous “McSteamy” is in the film. Eric Dane’s name appears on the movie posters, but, unlike the rest of the cast, his face is not present on the actor-compiled heart. In the trailers for the film Dane is not shown in any of the scenes extracted from the movie, he is just shown alongside his name. So what is Dane’s role? Narrator?

Nope. In reality Dane is a victim of advertisement editing that eliminates the trace of homosexual relationships in a film, even though they are central to the storyline. In other words, the film’s advertisements have been “de-gayed.” (And yes that means that Dane’s character is shacking up with another one of the male desirables in the film.)

In “Valentine’s Day,” Dane plays Bradley Cooper’s closeted football-player boyfriend. Would learning this info from the trailers and posters for the film have made you more or less interested in seeing it?

Unfortunately, regardless of your reaction, those in charge of marketing have already decided for you. Instead of playing on the publicity of a dreamy Cooper and Dane partnership – “Brokeback Mountain,” anyone?, the advertisers of the film have decided to disguise it.

Most of the folks running promotion, distribution, marketing for the wonderful world of American mass media haven’t made it past Chickenshit 101, yet. They should be in Congress.

Dumb crook of the day!

His previous business

Matthew Delorey was a 26-year old with a business plan: selling hacked cable modems. This is the sort of business that a budding entrepreneur should probably keep on the down-low, or at least limit to those tiny text ads at the back of magazines where satellite descramblers are sold, but that’s no way to rake in the cash.

That’s why Delorey, of New Bedford, Massachusetts, posted ads on Craigslist and then—rather incredibly—put up YouTube videos with names like “ How to Get Free Internet Free Cable Internet Comcast or any Cable ISP—100% works…”

But Delorey attracted some federal attention, and an FBI agent purchased two modems from Massmodz. The modems were sent to Motorola, which confirmed that they had been hacked, and the FBI arrested Delorey Thursday morning at his home.

He is charged with wire fraud and conspiracy to commit wire fraud. Each charge carries a maximum of 20 years in jail and a $250,000 fine.

Selling hacked cable modems and advertising them openly may have been a decent business model a decade ago, but it hardly seems worth bothering about today. The ISPs have been familiar with the practice since the beginning, when hackers would try to alter modem profiles in order to get more bandwidth than they were paying for.

The FBI may be run by conservative, knuckle-dragging noobies; but, let’s face it – they will notice a crook dumb enough to advertise his services.

Recession forces Media Barons to turn towards the Web

The recession-fueled advertising downturn underlines the urgency of using the Web to glean data and target consumers directly, rather than blasting them with a barrage of TV-style ads, media executives say…

As advertising dollars grow ever more scarce, companies have been forced to rethink how they reach consumers and have moved away from the traditional 30-second spot to the kinds of targeted, Internet-driven marketing campaigns that have been talked about for years…

Marketing is on an arc to become more efficient. My dollar should go further. And that says the advertising pool may not grow at the rate that it’s traditionally grown at, even out of this recession.”

Targeting consumers via demographics, profiling, and their social networks, “you learn a lot about people and you can identify them,” Jonathan Miller added.

The thinking among these media executives is that advances in technology is enabling them to build more detailed profiles of consumers — which can then either be sold as a commodity or employed in their own marketing campaigns…

But Ed Moran, director of product innovation for Deloitte, said tracking tastes and developing profiles is fine, as long as advertisers do not make the old media mistake of finding their optimum consumers, only to show them a commercial…

Even actor and media producer Ashton Kutcher chimed in at the conference, saying the billboard-style display ad is already outdated.

“People who have grown up on the Internet have trained themselves not to see it,” he added.

Sounds like what they should be paying for viral distribution and influence. That leaves them to choose between hypocrites and flacks on one side – and pain-in-the-ass opinionated cranks like me.

Which do you think they will choose? 🙂

Har! I ain’t planning on opening a new bank account.

Southern Comfort dumps cable TV for online advertising – only

Southern Comfort is taking its $8 million marketing spend online to reach its target market of 21- to 29-year-olds. Last year, the brand spent $6 million on late-night cable TV and another $1.5 million on magazines. All of that is going away.

Now, SoCo plans to spend $10 million online, where the money reaches far more prospective consumers than the same spend offline. The brand plans to buy ads for streaming TV episodes on Hulu and on the web sites of NBC, CBS, Fox and FX; it will also pick up ads on Facebook, Playboy, Thrillist and, among a number of others…

Because spirits advertising is forbidden from prime-time television, SoCo is having a tough time reaching its target audience. Plus, the folks the company wants to sell to are spending more of their time online. A Forrester Research survey released last week reported that Generation Y (ages 18 to 29), spends the most time online of any age group — more than 19 hours per week. Plus, Internet use across the board is exploding, up more than 115 percent over the past five years. During the same period, time spent reading magazines dropped 6 percent. It seems the best place to reach a younger audience is online, especially for an alcohol brand.

Lena DerOhannessian, SoCo’s U.S. marketing director, told AdAge, “As we’ve focused more on 21 to 29, TV becomes less and less effective at reaching that audience.” Because spirits advertising is compressed into a very short time slot, SoCo found that it was ending up with multiple alcohol ads within one show, or even one “pod” or commercial break. “That was just a game we didn’t want to keep playing.”

An experiment I’ll be watching like a hawk. Along with all the big boys.

The inability to quantify and analyze hard data from traditional advertising methods has driven companies bonkers for decades. No way at all to track eyeballs. Now – it takes more than click-throughs to determine what’s actually producing sales – but, the hard part of measuring the start of the process is comparatively easy online.

What’s the Honda hybrid’s niche? Everyone affected by price.

Honda Insight Concept

The timing may be right for a hybrid car with a suggested retail price starting under $20,000 — the first in the American market in that price range. That new model also comes as car sales decline along with gasoline prices, which may diminish consumer interest in greener transportation.

The American Honda Motor Company is taking a big risk on the potential appeal of a more mainstream hybrid. The automaker plans to introduce the 2010 Honda Insight on March 24, with sticker prices of $19,800 to $23,100 (plus destination charges).

By comparison, the 2010 Ford Fusion hybrid, from the Ford Motor Company, is priced from $27,270, and the 2009 Toyota Prius, from Toyota Motor Sales USA, starts at $22,000. The largest hybrids, like the 2009 GMC Yukon from General Motors, can cost $50,000 or more.

A campaign for the Insight, with a budget estimated at $50 million to $75 million, is scheduled to start on Monday. The campaign is by RPA in Santa Monica, California The ads present the Insight as a democratic car — small “d,” that is, as opposed to, say, President Barack Obama’s souped-up Cadillac limousine — because it is priced to be affordable.

You know who could use a car like this?” asks the headline of a print advertisement. “Everyone.”

Sounds like a smart campaign. I don’t now if people are ready to spend what hard-earned bucks they have on a new car. Right now.

But, Honda generally is as smart as Toyota – which means light years ahead of the Big 3. Perfectly capable of establishing a perception ahead of demand – which then places them in a position of advantage when consumers decide to act.

Apple’s combative ads against Microsoft continue to pay off

Opening Day in December at Apple’s Munich store, first in Germany
Daylife/Getty Images

I guess I should start with a note. A couple decades back, I sold computer systems to folks in the advertising game. They all believe that advertising can solve every problem in the world. The right slogan can save humanity and make everyone rich.

Generally, they were an easy sell.

Twenty-five years ago, Apple hurled a legendary marketing sledgehammer at IBM personal computers that ran Microsoft software. During the 1984 Super Bowl, the company ran a powerful television ad that depicted those machines as instruments of Big Brotherish conformity. The ad ran just once but is still talked about.

These days, Apple is still running ads that hammer computers that run Microsoft’s software.

And this time, Apple is delivering a constant pounding to its rival, which has been weakened by product stumbles and a series of ads that fell flat with the public.

While other technology companies curtail their ad budgets to ride out what appears to be an intense and protracted recession, Apple, based in Cupertino, California, said in its most recent earnings report that it actually increased marketing and advertising during the last three months of 2008 compared to the same period a year ago.

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Atheist bus ad campaign moves on to Barcelona

Next week, Barcelona will become the first city in predominantly Catholic Spain to copy the controversial UK campaign when its buses use a direct translation of the slogan adopted in Britain by the scientist Richard Dawkins and other prominent atheists.

“Probablemente Dios no existe. Deja de preocuparte y goza de la vida,” it reads. “There’s probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy life.”

Campaigners say that with 20% of Spaniards professing they do not believe in God, it is time atheism becomes a visible phenomenon.

It is time for non-believers to make themselves seen and display their pride in their own convictions,” said the Catalan Atheists group.

Donations have been flooding into the fund opened by the Catalan Atheists. “We raised a thousand euros in the first day,” the group said. “At this rate we will be able to take the campaign to Madrid as well.”

Rock on, dudes!

Cutting out the middleman in ads – sort of

LG Electronics used to run separate advertisements in each country it did business in, and the ads focused on the products it sold: televisions, phones and home electronics. Now, it is introducing its first global campaign featuring a celebrity. And it was not a Madison Avenue agency that designed the ad, but that eminent wrangler of celebrities, Condé Nast…

The Condé Nast Media Group, which created the ads, earned almost $100 million in revenue from custom work like this in 2008. It has created campaigns for the department store chain Dillard’s, the vodka Grey Goose, and the luxury car brand Lexus, which have included in-store events, parties and television programs. The unit demands that all the advertising it creates run only in Condé Nast magazines and Web sites…

A.J.Storinge said he asked several media companies to devise ideas that refreshed LG’s existing slogan. “It started with, How could we add further depth to the equity already built behind the tagline ‘Life’s Good’?” Storinge said. “There is a need to start to give it more meaning.”

Condé Nast executives said they came up with the idea of “Life Looks Good” because it would be understood around the world and would not need to be adjusted to reflect different cultures, although the ads are translated.

It also meant they could suggest other ideas based on the senses to LG and Mindshare: “Life Tastes Good,” “Life Sounds Good,” and “Life Feels Good,” which would mean more revenue for Condé Nast in what looks to be a dismal advertising year. “At the end of 2009, we potentially will have spent more with Condé Nast versus a year ago,” Boden of LG said.

“There’s no celebrity fees per se for this. It’s in return for promotional consideration. The clever part of these integrated marketing programs is finding triangulation: Third party A needs something from third party B who needs something from us.” Zwick, for instance, is promoting his new movie, “Defiance.”

I sold to ad agency types for a short spell in early geek days; so, this gives me a special chuckle. Not that this isn’t a potentially successful campaign. Not that it can’t or won’t build into something qualitatively different within the trade. I just learned early on that you really can bullshit a bullshitter.

The article offers a discussion on the semantics of LG as “Life’s Good” and a segue into “Life Looks Good”. But, I wonder who was the original bright employee who thought of turning LG – which was “Lucky Goldstar” – into LG Electronics?