Invisible Advertising

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Just when you thought there were no new frontiers left for advertisers— think again. Direct-to-consumer drug advertisements, made legal in the US a few years ago, are now a staple on TV, billboards, magazines and the Internet in America, and flow freely across media borders into Canada.

That’s the ads we know about, but what about the “invisible” ads? A recent investigative report by Lawrence Goodman of Salon.com revealed that drug makers have been hiring celebrities as “drug pushers” —spokesmen and women paid to hawk pharmaceuticals under the guise of a personal interview.

When supermodel Lauren Hutton tells Parade magazine that hormone therapy has vastly improved her moods and her skin, or when Kathleen Turner recommends a pharmaceutically run and funded website for rheumatoid arthritis sufferers during her Good Morning America interview, fans are unaware that their stars are paid spokeswomen for the pharmaceutical companies that profit from this celebrity “feel-good” promotion. Hutton has been a paid spokesperson for Wyeth, the maker of the popular Prempro HRT formula for years, and Turner receives a fee from Immunex, a bio-pharmaceutical company that makes Enbrel, an arthritis drug.

Goodman indicates that this “below-the-radar” celebrity promotion of pharmaceuticals is rampant, and included in the roster of paid spokespersons are actors Olympia Dukakis, Joan Lunden, Rob Lowe, Rita Moreno, Bob Uecker and Debbie Reynolds; political figures, such as Bob Dole; and plenty of sports icons, such as gymnast Bart Connor, Olympic figure skaters Tara Lipinski and Dorothy Hamill, jockey, Julie Krone, former NFL coach, Bill Parcells, former San Francisco 49er Joe Montana, and the list goes on and on.

There is even a Hollywood talent agency that specializes in recruiting stars for drug companies. Stars charge fees up to $1 million to speak about a particular illness and to encourage affected viewers to seek possible treatment. There are currently no FDA or Health Canada guidelines to monitor these celebrity sponsored “public awareness campaigns” which front for drug-pushing advertisements.

~ Kathleen O’Grady

Sources: www.salon.com; HealthFacts August 22, 2002; http://www.medicalconsumers.org