Living in a culture that is so heavily influenced by media and advertising, it is almost impossible to open a magazine, watch television, or even walk down the street without seeing an advertisement for prescription drugs. Since its start in the early 19th century, the pharmaceutical industry has expanded to become one of the fastest growing, most influential and successful industries today. Over the years, many factors such as innovative technologies, new regulations, and company mergers and takeovers, have contributed to the rapid growth of this industry. However, on top of these factors lies the most powerful and persuasive reason why our society has become a drug-obsessive, pill-popping culture: the excessive, overwhelming marketing of prescription drugs to the public. From producing countless misleading prescription drug commercials to forming alliances with doctors by giving them free gifts, pharmaceutical companies have deceitfully found many ways to reach the public and increase their profits.
In the past, the marketing of prescription drugs was mainly targeted at health care professionals so they could consult with patients and make informed decisions about prescribing new medications. However, in the 1990s, pharmaceutical drug companies started using new marketing strategies, and in addition to targeting health care professionals, they turned their attention towards patients. The industry’s new market strategy: advertise prescription drugs directly to consumers. This kind of promoting, technically known as direct-to-consumer advertising (DTCA), soon became the main focus for the U.S. pharmaceutical industry to increase its sales and profits. Soon enough every major drug company was using direct-to-consumer advertising because of the dramatic results it produced and it played a key role in competing with other companies in the industry. In addition, in 1997 the U.S. Food and Drug Administration relaxed restrictions on television and broadcast advertising, making the United States one of two countries (the other is New Zealand) that legalized DTCA of prescription drugs (Abramson). This opened the doors for drug companies because it made it much easier and convenient for them to market their drugs to the public. DTCA dramatically increased and soon became the powerful advertising technique that turned the pharmaceutical industry into a multi-billion dollar market. Just two years after restrictions were relaxed, sales and profits quickly rose. In fact, sales from the 50 best-selling prescription drugs rose from $730.6 billion in 1999 to $886.6 billion in 2000 (Weber). Also interesting to note are drug companies profits compared to other top industries. In 2001, profits of Fortune 500 companies declined by 53%, while the top ten U.S. drug makers increased profits by 32% (Kassirer).
Every year the pharmaceutical industry spends billions of dollars on DTCA. According to the U.S. Government Accountability Office, advertisements shown on television and in magazines made up about 94% of the total spending for DTCA in 2005 (GAO). Consumers see commercials on TV that encourage them to ask their doctor about new prescriptions that might help them. In addition, pharmaceuticals companies rely on the traditional customs and practices of advertising to lure patients. One way of doing this is through establishing brand identities for these products by creating an emotional bond between the consumer and the drug (Weber). Elizabeth Preston, Department of Communication Chair at Westfield State College, explains that “these commercials can be deceiving because you don’t really ever see the medical condition being represented; you don’t see people suffering the ailment that they supposedly suffer from, you see them restored to health after they have taken the chemical.(Big Bucks)” Because people in these commercials are always portrayed as happy and healthy individuals, consumers may unconsciously...
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