Tag Archives: advertising

Why do we feel bad about the way we look?

Laurie Essig’s new book, American Plastic: Boob Jobs, Credit Cards, and the Quest for Perfection, includes a chapter on how we learn to want cosmetic surgery. She quotes Joan Rivers, from her book Men Are Stupid . . . And They Like Big Boobs: A Woman’s Guide to Beauty Through Plastic Surgery:

My abiding life philosophy is plain: In our appearance-centric society, beauty is a huge factor in everyone’s professional and emotional success—for good or ill, it’s the way things are; accept it or go live under a rock.

Heidi Montag cultural texts promoting cosmetic surgery

Essig comments:

But Rivers is a TV star. TV and movie stars have always utilized the miracles of cosmetic surgery to look good in the two-dimensional spaces they inhabit. How did the rest of us learn to desire a perfectly plastic body? How did ordinary women and men with ordinary lives and ordinary bodies learn that they need plastic? The answer: the plastic ideological complex, a set of cultural texts that are both highly contested and yet tightly on message. It is itself so ubiquitous that it might even be described as hegemonic. In other words, the “need” for cosmetic procedures is impossible to avoid. Through advertising and TV shows, movies and magazines, we learn to want cosmetic intervention in our aging faces and imperfect bodies. This need is now so firmly implanted in our cultural psyche that it has become “common sense” to embrace cosmetic procedures. Why wouldn’t we want to look more beautiful, younger, thinner, more feminine, better? The question is no longer will you have plastic surgery, but when.

Accept plastic beauty or go live under a rock. Rivers isn’t just joking; she’s also doing the serious work of enacting the ideology of plastic, an ideology that we can no longer avoid. Even if we did live under a rock, whenever we crawled out from underneath it, we would be assaulted by images of perfectly plastic beauty on billboards and the sides of buses and on TV and in movies and even the nightly news. And then there are those damn magazine racks, an unavoidable gauntlet of Dos! and Don’ts! that must be passed through each and every time we buy our food.

A conspiracy of capital to make us feel bad

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Exploiting vanity for a good cause

[N]ew anti-drug campaign may succeed where others have failed, grabbing teens’ attentions by appealing to their vanity….

“The thinking is that this will give kids a tangible image of what can happen if they get involved in using hard drugs,” [Deputy Bret] King says. “We did want to appeal to their sense of vanity.” …

“It’s less abstract than telling someone they’ll get lung cancer many years down the line. This is something you can actually see right now.”

From drugs to mugs

Photos in the anti-drug campaign are from a new documentary, From Drugs to Mugs.

Before and after photos appear in the following promotional video starting at 6:11 minutes. Read more


Mental illness in college students: Overdiagnosed

Mental health college students overdiagnosisThe New York Times ran an article in December about the declining mental health of college students. The focus of the article was actually on how difficult it is for understaffed counseling centers to cope, but the problem was framed with some disturbing statistics: “44 percent [of students] in counseling have severe psychological disorders, up from 16 percent in 2000, and 24 percent are on psychiatric medication, up from 17 percent a decade ago.”

The article offered two possible explanations for these statistics: More students are able to attend college because effective psychiatric medicine is available and/or counselors are now better at recognizing a serious illness than they used to be.

Experts say the trend is partly linked to effective psychotropic drugs (Wellbutrin for depression, Adderall for attention disorder, Abilify for bipolar disorder) that have allowed students to attend college who otherwise might not have functioned in a campus setting.

There is also greater awareness of traumas scarcely recognized a generation ago and a willingness to seek help for those problems, including bulimia, self-cutting and childhood sexual abuse.

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The future of advertising unhealthy products

Advertising in Tokyo (Shinjuku)Before it gets too far into the New Year, I want to point out an interesting article in The Guardian on 20 predictions for the next 25 years.

There are predictions for vaccines: No more AIDS, no more malaria, no more measles and rotavirus in developing countries. Neuroscience: “We’ll be able to plug information streams directly into the cortex”. Health: We’ll feel less healthy. (emphasis added)

Life expectancy is rising about three months each year, but we’ll feel less healthy, partly because we’ll be more aware of the many things that are, or could be, going wrong, and partly because more of us will be living with a long-term condition.

Being more aware of what could be wrong with us, and believing (and thus feeling) we’re less healthy as a result, has been going on since the advent of advertising. This proces has been greatly accelerated, however, by electronic mass media and now the Internet.

But the prediction I found most interesting was about advertising, offered by Russell Davies of Ogilvy and Mather. (emphasis added) Read more


Do gruesome graphics deter or promote smoking?

New US cigarette package labelingIn 2009 the FDA finally acquired the authority to regulate the production and marketing of tobacco. On the marketing front, the tobacco industry fought back with a legal challenge. It claimed the new Congressional law violated the industry’s right to free speech. If cigarette packaging had to feature strong graphic images – one of the provisions of the bill — the industry would required to “stigmatize their own products through their own packaging.”

The lawsuit is still pending, but the results of new marketing requirements have begun to appear. The question remains: Will they be effective?

Scary labels may be counter-production

Martin Lindstrom, a former ad agency executive and expert on the science of marketing, has used neuroimaging to study what makes people buy. In his bestseller Buyology: Truth and Lies About Why We Buy, he describes a study he conducted on cigarette advertising. He found that especially vivid anti-smoking warnings actually increase a smoker’s craving for cigarettes.

There’s a possible explanation for this in a concept called Terror Management Theory, which includes the idea that a threat to one’s life increases the need for self-esteem. Read more


Asbestos, anyone?

I live in a building constructed in the 1950s, with asbestos in the ceilings. As is true for some schools, it’s safer to leave it alone than to disturb it and put all those fibers into the air.

Hat tip to a relatively new blog, Medicina – Videos, consejos [advice], material de lectura relacionado a la medicina, which seems to have quite a few posts on mesothelioma, most of them in English.
Related posts:
Where were the melamine whistle blowers?
The persistence of melamine
Melamine, cadmium, and Heidi Montag
Is it safe to take Tylenol?
Not just peanut butter: What’s happening to our food supply?
Paging Dr. Frankenstein
To make more money


(Links will open in a separate window or tab.)

Video: Old Promotional Film For Asbestos, Medicina, April 17, 2010


FDA video on health fraud: So boring it makes you wonder

FDA health fraud awareness

Source: Dipity

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has a new video on health fraud awareness. A worthy topic. It touches on weight loss products, HIV scams, cures for cancer and diabetes. What’s noteworthy about the video is that it’s SO boring. The inflections of the voiceover are totally inauthentic. It has the pacing of a 1970s newscast. There’s almost no music. It’s not sufficiently interesting to grab and hold anyone’s attention.
News – and not just TV news — has become infotainment. I would be the first to complain that this is a tragedy with major implications. But it’s also a reality. To compete for attention, you need some creativity. The chances that this video had any input from a decent ad agency are slim.

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Daily Dose: Celebrity health; Livestock antibiotics; Transplants

The body as machine

Female robot companion

Source: The Daily Mail

Inventor spends Christmas with his perfect woman – a £30,000 custom-made fembot (The Daily Mail)
“Inventor Le Trung spent Christmas Day with the most important woman in his life – his robot Aiko. … Her touch sensitive body knows the difference between being stroked gently or tickled. … ‘Aiko is always helpful and never complains. She is the perfect woman to have around at Christmas.’ ”

Celebrity health advice

Celebrity markerting of pharmaceuticals

Source: PLoS Medicine

Are celebrities crossing the line on medical advice? (USA Today)
“Many doctors say they’re troubled by stars who cross the line from sharing their stories to championing questionable or even dangerous medical advice. … Actress Suzanne Somers– already well-known for her diet books and ThighMaster products — in October released her 18th book, Knockout, which experts describe as a catalogue of unproven or long-debunked alternative cancer ‘cures.’ … [Celebrities] ‘can spread misinformation much faster than the average person with a wacky theory. … Correcting that misinformation — even with a mountain of evidence — can be a challenge. … ‘It’s much easier to scare people than to unscare them.’ ”

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Sin taxes: Financing health care with soda pop

Obamaon cover of Men's Health

Sourch: On the dash

Sugary soft drinks are under attack from obesity experts, health commissioners, nutritionists, Congress, and President Obama. And the soft drink industry is fighting back.
Health experts have proposed a tax on soft drinks of one cent per ounce. That’s an extra 12 cents on a 12-ounce bottle of Pepsi, which may not sound like much, but it adds up. If a two-liter (67.6 ounces) bottle of Coke sells for $1.35, the price would go up 50 percent.
Health experts claim the tax could cut consumption by 10 percent and, they hope, reduce obesity. Even if the tax had no impact on weight gain, there’s the appeal of generating $15 billion a year in revenues.
Congress likes the idea of a tax on soft drinks because they could use the money to finance health care. The Congressional Budget Office did an estimate last December on a less drastic federal excise tax — three cents for every 12 ounces — and came up with a projected income of $50 billion over ten years. Currently there’s no amendment taxing soft drinks in either the House or Senate versions of the health care reform bill. But that battle isn’t over yet.

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Have fun. Help the environment. Sell cars.

Volkswagen E-Up! eco-friendly

Source: Virgin Media

The Volkswagen E-UP! model is not only electric. It has over 10 square feet of solar panels. And it comes with an electric scooter that folds up and fits in the back. That way you can park at a recharging station, as long as it’s not too far from your destination. Clearly VW wants to position itself with consumers as eco-friendly.
VW’s ad agency has come up with a supporting concept: If you increase the fun quotient of something that’s good for the environment, people will change their behavior. They call this The Fun Theory.
In one Fun Theory video, technicians worked overnight to turn subway stairs into a functional (sound-producing) piano keyboard. Reports are that 66% more people took the stairs rather than the power-consuming escalator. Good for the environment and good for health.

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The tactics of health care opponents may discredit their message

Healthcare protest New Hampshire

Source: Telegraph

After all the recent media coverage of angry crowds at town hall meetings who oppose health care reform, it’s a relief to come across a reassuring piece of journalism from a neutral source. Reuters reports that the entire ruckus will probably not make any difference in the broader debate on health issues.

The shouting captured media attention and overshadowed debate on the complex details of Obama’s top domestic priority, but the furor could limit the influence of the town hall meetings when lawmakers take up the issue again in September.
“A lot of this is the base of the two parties screaming at each other and I don’t know if it’s changing a lot of minds one way or the other,” Republican consultant Dan Schnur said.
“It just turns people off,” said Jim Kessler, vice president for policy at the moderate think tank Third Way. He said extreme elements on each side are battling and “for everyone else this is a revolting spectacle.”

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Health Culture Daily Dose #15

In today’s Dose:

Health care reform
(A public option plan emerges from HELP committee; Arguments for the public option from the Urban Institute; Obama stands Harry & Louise on their heads)

Health news
(Should Steve Jobs use his celebrity status for pancreatic cancer awareness and funding?)

Industrialized agriculture
(Labeling organic food: What can you believe?; Food, Inc. available in more theaters)

Health care reform

  • The latest health care reform proposal to emerge from the Senate HELP (Health, Education, Labor and Pensions) committee includes a public option. The plan is called the Community Health Insurance Option (CHIO). Here’s a one-page summary (PDF) of details from the website of Senator Chris Dodd.

The CHIO would be administered by the Department of Health and Human Services. It would follow the same rules that apply to private, for-profit insurance companies. Rates would be no more than local average private rates, but could be less. Doctor and other health care provider participation is optional. Physicians had been concerned that they would be required to participate. Now that this is clear, we’ll soon see if the medical profession gets behind this plan.

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Health Culture Daily Dose #3

In today’s Dose:

Health care reform
(Gawande radio interview; Public option)

Health news
(Bayer and prostate cancer)

Obesity politics
(Michelle Obama)

Social networking technology
(Doctors on Twitter and email)

Health care reform

  • National Public Radio has an interview with Atul Gawande about his recent New Yorker article. It’s 30 minutes and covers much the same material as the article. At the end, the interviewer asks Gawande what it was like to learn that Obama and his staff were reading and discussing the article. His reply:

Completely shocking. This is the dream you have, that anything you write is absorbed by the people who affect your life. And right now the folks in Washington are deeply important to us as patients and as clinicians, and so it felt like a victory. At the same time I also knew that the brickbats would come and I had better suit up.

(Thanks, Joanne, for the heads up.)

From Cocco:

Advocates of a single, national insurance system that would involve explicit cost controls and guidelines for care — that might put an end to such wasteful practices as over-testing — have been shunted aside. This is in part because Democrats quiver when Republicans call them “socialists.” But Republicans cry “socialist” even when Democrats promote weak reforms that barely nick the vested interests. That’s what’s happening now. No one has seriously proposed an overhaul that would achieve what a single-payer system has been shown to accomplish in most other countries: universal coverage with lower costs that delivers better results than we now get in the United States.

From Digby:

Financing was always going to be a problem. … [W]atching Baucus run for cover, watching Daschle do the old el foldo, I’m seriously pessimistic that anything out of Washington will meet the expectations of anyone in the country.

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Health Culture Daily Dose #1advertising, alcohol, doctors, FDA, health care, health news, Obama, pharmaceuticals, tobacco

In today’s Dose:

Health care reform
(Obama’s AMA speech; Underlying issues; David Brooks on Obama; Robert Samuelson’s take; WSJ fiction)

Health news
(Benefits of alcohol?; Ritalin and unexplained deaths)

(Litigating over free speech; Is the FDA demoralized)

Health care reform

  • The American Medical Association (AMA) came out last week against any government sponsored insurance plan, but a few days later they back pedaled a bit, saying they’d been misinterpreted and that they were simply opposed to “any public plan that forces physicians to participate, expands the fiscally challenged Medicare program or pays Medicare rates.”
    So there was a great deal of anticipation surrounding President Obama’s address to the AMA’s annual meeting in Chicago yesterday. Here is a video of the address, compliments of C-SPAN and Kaiser Health News (the clip is about 8 minutes), or if you prefer, you can read the speech as text at the Wall Street Journal.

[T]he president’s speech on Monday was the latest example of an oft-used ploy to press his case: appearing before skeptical audiences, confident of his powers of persuasion but willing as well to say what his listeners do not want to hear. …
“The public option is not your enemy,” Mr. Obama said. “It is your friend, I believe.” Saying it would “keep the insurance companies honest,” the president dismissed as “illegitimate” the claims of critics that a public insurance option amounts to “a Trojan horse for a single-payer system” run by the government. …
Mr. Obama assured skeptics in the audience: “You did not enter this profession to be bean counters and paper pushers. You entered this profession to be healers. And that’s what our health care system should let you be.”

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Coughing Up Blood Money: The hit parade of cigarette ads

Coughing up blood money

We’ve come a long way in the history of cigarette advertising. Here’s a 1949 commercial for Camels.

The “More doctors smoke Camels” campaign was a response to concerns, starting in the 1940s, that smoking caused lung cancer and heart disease. There had been a series of articles on this in the widely read Reader’s Digest. What better reassurance that smoking was not harmful than an endorsement from doctors?
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Coughing Up Blood Money: FDA regulation of tobacco


Smoking causes lung cancer. We’ve known that for 60+ years. But the regulation of tobacco has happened in slow motion, thanks largely to political lobbying by the tobacco industry. In 2000, the Supreme Court ruled that the FDA could not take it upon itself to regulate cigarettes. It would first need legislative approval from Congress.

With President Bush gone, Congress should finally be voting on FDA regulation of tobacco in 2009. The proposed bill, called the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act, was introduced in February 2007 by that health and energy hero, Rep. Henry Waxman. The bill has been out of committee since April 2008. As I mentioned, these things happen slowly.

cigarettes-cause-mouth-diseaseThe proposed bill strengthens restrictions on advertising and youth marketing, and it requires new, stronger warning labels. The Canadians have graphic illustrations of smoking-related diseases directly on a pack of cigarettes. Here’s a whole page of Canadian warning labels. The Canadian graphics are mild compared to the Brazilian warning poster that shows a gruesome case of smoking-related gangrene. The U.S. tobacco bill would presumably usher in Canadian-like labels. It also requires full disclosure of all ingredients in tobacco products and restricts harmful additives. Read more


Coughing Up Blood Money: Taxing tobacco, taxing credibility

Coughing up blood money
Roll Call

Roll Call, the daily paper aimed at Washington politicos, gets endorsements such as the following from members of Congress:
Former House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt (D-Mo.): “Roll Call is a critical and indispensable tool for deciphering the day-to-day maneuverings of Capitol Hill. Roll Call has its finger on the pulse of Congress.”
Former Sen. John Warner (R-Va.): “I get a lot of information from Roll Call that I can’t find in other publications. I have to read it to keep my head above water in this town.”
When you want to send a message to Congress, you can take out a full page ad in Roll Call.

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Science, engineering, and the recession

It was the UK’s Bryan Appleyard who started me thinking about health and the recession. In an article on what to expect in 2009, he interviewed Chris Ruhm, who stands by his 1996 findings that recessions are good for your health.

“People get physically healthier and mortality rates fall during bad economic times,” he tells me. “It’s the opposite of what I expected to find.” . . .
“When times are hard, [people] control the things they can control – they live healthily.”

I think it makes sense that anxiety of any sort prompts some people to adopt healthy lifestyles, but I still don’t buy Ruhm’s conclusion that health gets better in bad economic times.
Appleyard also interviewed Rick Haythornthwaite, Chairman of the Board of Directors of MasterCard. Haythornthwaite comments that our brightest college graduates have preferred careers in finance since the early 1990s. If the Wall Street collapse encourages the “best young brains” to choose more valuable careers, that would be a plus.

“My hope,” says Haythornthwaite, “is that some of the most talented people will go back into science-based and engineering careers. So much of the financial sector is a zero-sum game, whereas science and engineering create sustainable wealth. That’s what’s going to get us out of this recession. It’s a good thing that jobs in the financial services are now so much less appealing.”

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Direct-to-consumer: The ads we love to hate

Last week the CEO of Roche Pharmaceuticals had some candid comments on direct-to-consumer advertising:

Direct-to-consumer promotion [of drugs] was the single worst decision for the industry. … When industry says we’re spending all the money on R&D but actually it’s spending it on TV advertising to preserve margins, it doesn’t get much credibility.

William Burns went on to say the “marginally different and market-it-like-hell model [of prescription drugs] is over.”
Who besides the pharmaceutical industry thinks direct-to-consumer DTC advertising is a good idea? Doctors object to patients who self-diagnose and then insist they know just what the doctor should order.

So what happens is they come into the office, and they’ll say: ‘I need a certain drug.’ And a lot of times we’ll spend more time either negating the diagnosis that they’ve made just by the commercial, in addition to explaining why that certain medication is not appropriate for the following reasons.

The public actually sees some advantages to DTC ads. They educate, raise awareness and reduce stigma (think Viagra). But the public also understands that these ads raise prescription drug prices, stimulate unnecessary demand, and do a poor job of explaining the negative side effects.
Personally I think it’s one thing for an ad to sweet-talk me into buying a Lexus, but when it comes to my health, someone – the FTC perhaps? – should just say no. DTC ads are only allowed in the US and New Zealand. There’s a good reason.

Osteoporosis and the flying nun

Sally Fields as The Flying Nun

Burns’ company Roche sells the once-a-month osteoporosis drug Boniva, whose spokeswoman is Sally Fields. For Fields, promoting Boniva is part of her feminist cause:

I want to help change the way women live as they age. We have fought so hard in our lives for things to be better, not to accept the status quo. We surely can’t stop now that we are entering this next part of our lives

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Will Obama’s health policy survive a Big Pharma challenge?

President-elect Obama has made it clear he wants to change US health policy, and he appears to have widespread public support to do just that. The pharmaceutical industry, on the other hand, likes things just the way they are. We can expect Big Pharma to put up a fight to protect their interests and, in fact, the first shot will be fired this week. But the pharmas need to walk a fine line. Their public relations efforts over the past few years have been an attempt to win public sympathy. Now they need to attack Obama without jeopardizing all that goodwill.

One change in health policy already singled out by Obama is the federal government’s ability to negotiate Medicare drug prices. This particular item could cost the drug industry as much as $30 billion. Not surprisingly, PhRMA, the largest pharmaceutical lobbying group, has been preparing for this moment and last week announced a new public relations campaign.

“We’re going to do an ad campaign that is designed to make people aware of the importance of preserving your free-market health care system.” This from Ken Johnson, a senior VP at PhRMA, quoted in the Washington Times.

In a post titled “Is big pharma preparing to shoot itself in the foot?”, David Williams had this to say:

[The PhRMA ad campaign] may try to have the same impact as the famous Harry and Louise ads of 1993 that undermined the planned Hillary Clinton-led reform bill. … If that’s really the aim, someone is misjudging the mood of the public. People aren’t looking for “free-market” anything at the moment, especially when what the pharmaceutical industry really means by “free market” is pricing freedom for themselves. … Here’s some friendly advice to the pharmaceutical industry: don’t make the mistake of attacking the policies of our new President. Such a move is likely to backfire.

The Harry and Louise ads.

PhRMA polishes its image

PhRMA hasn’t been sitting on the sidelines during the election campaign, waiting to see who wins. PhRMA’s Johnson also had this to say:
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The election, the common good, Starbucks, and driving safely

There’s been plenty of coverage of the Obama and McCain health plans during the presidential election campaign. I debated whether to contribute my opinion and decided against it. I think everyone is exhausted with media coverage. There’s a nice Time Magazine article this week on “The 24-Minute News Cycle.” It was reassuring to read that I’m not alone in refreshing the Google News page.

I can recommend some sources on the health care debate that go deeper than the rivalry of two candidates. There is a page put together by The New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) called Election 2008. I especially liked the article “Three ‘Inconvenient Truths’ about Health Care” by V. R. Fuchs. I may write about that article later. Health care is not an issue that’s going to disappear simply because the election frenzy is over.
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How the pharmas make us sick

Medicalization and disease mongering

I don’t have a lot of personal complaints about medicalization. As a woman, I don’t worry about erectile dysfunction or male pattern baldness. I haven’t had to decide to use Ritalin for a hyperactive child or growth hormones for a son who is shorter than his classmates. In my heart of hearts, I consider myself a social deviant (and am proud of it), but I don’t exhibit behavior that brings me to the attention of physicians, psychiatrists, or the law.

Many things that used to be considered a normal part of life – childbirth, menopause, insomnia, sadness, excess weight, aging, death – have been redefined as medical conditions and subjected to diagnosis and treatment. This process is called medicalization: Redefining a non-medical condition as a medical one. Medicalization is a major contributor to the health culture. It broadens the definition of health and encourages us to think of ourselves as in need of medical attention.

The active process of converting a benign condition into a medical disease is called disease mongering. Lynn Payer wrote a whole book on the subject: “[D]isease mongering – trying to convince essentially well people that they are sick, or slightly sick people that they are very ill – is big business. For people to use a diagnostic product or service, they must be convinced that they MAY BE sick. And to market drugs to the widest possible audience, pharmaceutical companies must convince people – or their physicians – that they ARE sick.”
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