Foto by tgw, New York City 2011
Advertising Is All Lies
One of the things I learned working in the pharmaceutical advertising game--my office was on Madison Avenue, too--was when you are writing any kind of ad copy, you are exaggerating the importance, utility, and value of the product you are actually SELLING. I worked for many decades in back-office advertising situations, back where all the crunching work is done. Back where the concepts are thought up. Back where the product is given a brand--yes, it comes from branding cattle. Marking your possessions. Putting your brand on your possessions. Possessions you intend one day on SELLING. From the brand comes the product itself--giving the brand a physical body. In terms of pharmaceutical advertising, the brand's physical body is the drug. This is a drug that has been formulated in a biochemical laboratory. It comes to light as a chemical formula. That chemical formula has a name depending on the chemicals biochemically blended into what these biochemists intended it to do in terms of its mechanism of action influence on what has been diagnosed as a disease of a particular type whether organic or systemic, blah, blah, blah. The pharmaceutical ad writer is given this chemical formula along with all of the clinical trials (pharmaceutical companies keep active a team of doctors they pay big bucks to conduct these clinical trials, blind studies, where a group of people suffering from a certain disease are given either this experimental drug or a sugar pill, a placebo). From all of this biochemical and clinical trial information, the pharmaceutical ad writer and his team go about giving this drug a reason for being, an efficacy, a brand name and in parentheses its biochemical (generic) name--i.e.:
ZOLOFT® (sertraline hydrochloride) is a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) for oral administration. It has a molecular weight of 342.7. Sertraline hydrochloride has the following chemical name: (1 S-cis)-4-(3,4-dichlorophenyl)-l,2,3,4-tetrahydro-N-methyl-l-naphthalenamine hydrochloride. The empirical formula C17H17NCl2•HCl is represented by the following structural formula:
The hydrochloride [HCl] in the formula, by the way, is the salt that weighs the sertraline down to where it stays in the system long enough to attack what it's chemically formulated to attack, in the case of Zoloft its mechanism of action works on the brain's manufacturing of serotonin, Zoloft supposedly giving an energetic shot to that manufacturing.
Following the above formula comes a fine-printed information sheet that gives a total description of Zoloft: how it works, or is supposed to work; how it came out in terms of its clinical trials (the drug versus the sugar pill (placebo)); its efficacy in terms of how it came out in the clinical trails; how to dose the drug; then the WARNINGS section, followed by a CONTRAINDICATIONS section (meaning other drugs it might clash with causing great harm to the partaker). This massive little fine-print tome is what comes with your meds when you pick them up at the drug store--is called the P.I., short for Prescribing Information.
Sertraline hydrochloride is the generic name of Zoloft, an antidepressant that has recently been shown when taken by pregnant women to be responsible for babies born with cleft palates and heart problems, etc. You see, clinical trials don't involve children and pregnant women (for ethical reasons), so a doctor who prescribes Zoloft to a pregnant woman suffering from depression is doing so against the advice of the prescribing information which warns the doctors that Zoloft has not been clinically trialed (tested) on children or pregnant women so this excuses the drug company, in the case of Zoloft, Pfizer, from any responsibility for any problems evolving from doctors prescribing Zoloft to children or pregnant women, which also includes nursing (or breast-feeding) mothers, too.
So from the above complicated scheme of things, you can imagine the difficulty a pharmaceutical ad writer has when trying to promote Zoloft.
First of all, in spite of many clinical trials, there is no real proof that antidepressants work at all compared to placebos. Every clinical trial has its failures. It's deaths. Though these deaths may not show up in the final test results. Deaths or other ill-effects of antidepressants fall outside the random sampled middle of the trials--in the business we call these "ouliers." In a clinical trial of say 1100 depressed patients, say 6 die during the clinical trial--out of those 1100 patients, these 6 deaths will show up far outside the average--therefore as outliers they won't affect the results of the clinical trial.
I worked on a drug similar to Zoloft when I was in the business. I was a medical editor on this product. My job was to make sure the copywriters used good grammar (made sense), but that they also were staying within the Federal Drug Administration's so-called regulations in terms of medical advertising--like nowhere in a drug ad are you allowed to use the term "Cure." These drugs are not curatives; they are inhibitors. Most of their mechanisms of actions are the same as you'd find in the caution statements that come along with any TOXIC (POISON) substance, and that's all these drugs all are, toxics. They can be easily compared to rat poison or insect spray and their effects on the biological systems of these pests are the same effects that work in the human body as well. These drugs for humans effectiveness is in the control of the dosage. You put just enough poison into a human's body to do the trick--in the case of the antidepressant I worked on, the trick was to toxically knock out the culprit responsible for the slowing down of the reuptake of the brain of seratonin.
In order to sell a product like Zoloft to depressed people, you have to LIE. You have to exaggerate Zoloft's power. You have to warn subtly that once you start taking Zoloft, you have to keep taking it--it's actually you have to keep taking it forever--but the copy will say as your health-care provider has prescribed--the warning gets boldest when the copy says if you do go off your antidepressant meds, there is a strong possibility whatever good the drug did you is now reversed and you'll be subject to a depression like you never knew could exist--one so powerful, it might drive you to suicide. Those voices in your schizophrenic head telling you the easy way out--and while you're taking your own life, why not take your family or your friends with you.
All of this to say that at a quorum meeting at an uptown Manhattan Irish pub--ruled over by the glorious Paula--while watching a newsclip of President Obama saying he was bringing the troops home from Iraq by the end of the year, a realization popped into my head. And, yes, I did listen to this speech with my backwards thinking theory in mind--that theory that tells me what Obama says he's going to do is exactly what he's not going to do. Which led me to recall that this is ELECTION CAMPAIGNING TIME--and President Obama, I just read, has already gotten most of the billion bucks he's gonna need to rerun--remember Rerun on teevee?--from WHO? If you guessed Wall Street, the hedge funders, the bailed-out failed banks, Goldman-Sachs, AIG, the Bank of America you are correct, sir or madame--the crookedest bastards in the old Capitalist ballgame--and they're backing their BOY Obama with all the bucks he needs. And I said outloud, "Every speech President Obama makes now is a fucking advertisement--he's running for president--he's advertising how he is an action president--why, lookie-lookie, I'm bringing home the troops from Iraq [the reason we're bringing the Iraq troops home? Because the Iraqi Parliament voted to not give US troopers impunity for their criminal actions! Besides, we're leaving 100,000 contractors there and at the world's largest embassy, Hillbilly Hillary will house her private army of 7,000 troops. Plus, too, we'll just move our troops into Kuwait, somewhere like that. NOW, via the idiot babbling of John "Failed Mission" McCain, We the People are promoting sending US troops into Syria--remember, the CIA is behind the rebellion in Syria! They were also behind the rebellion in Libya!]--wait a minute, I thought we'd already withdrawn troops from Iraq--didn't he take a bunch of troops out of Iraq when he took General Betrayus out of Iraq and sent him over to that horrible mistake of a war in Afghanistan? That horrible dastardly war still going on after TEN fucking years. Can you imagine if this country were under constant military rule, constant threats of daily bombings, of daily gunfire in the streets, of military forces and vehicles and military police and CIA agents and UN and NATO troops and big shots all up and down every one of your streets, taking over your tourist spots, taking over you governing bodies, taking over your police, your rights--death everyday--death from rocket attacks--death from firing squads, death drone aircraft, death from US Army helicoptors--death to men, women, children, daily, dead bodies in the streets of Afghanistan's cities for ten long fucking years?--can you imagine the whining and whimpering and police brutality and military takeover that would cause in this country?--and look at the death and destruction we've imposed on those poor Afghan people--the Afghan-Americans I know are great witty people full of laughter and peace--for ten long fucking years! And all the while that little wormy bastard, G.W. Bush, is living it up like the spoiled brat he is, living off the dole--lecturing recently in British Columbia--I can't imagine who the fuck in their right mind would pay that little spoiled brat prick $500,000 to make a speech--about what for god's sake? And watching the Texas-Detroit American League Championship series, how pissed I got seeing that like prick and Pickles being treated with such privilege and respect--front row seats, alongside Nolan Ryan and his wife, G.W. vaunted as the ex-owner of the Texas Rangers; vaunted as the little prick who tricked the citizens of Arlington, Texas, into building that, and I'll admit, very impressive little MLB ballyard. Chills of total spite ran up and down my spine as I watched that little murdering phony Texan (he was born in Connecticut) and Potsmoking Pickles sitting there dumbass with both teams's managers going over and fawning over this little killer, this ex-faux-president who through the wiles of his father's and his Unka Dick's and his brother Jeb's cronies and goons stole two elections right out from under a couple of wimpy Democrats (Gore the Bore and Kerry the Poor Little Rich Boy Phony AntiVietnam War Hero), who rather than fight back, cowardly tucked the quivering tales and went to bed losers.
All advertisements are LIES. That's all I'm saying.
for The Daily Growler
A Little Taste of American Art:
Madame Butterfly, by Helen Frankenthaler (December 12, 1928)