Pharmaceutical

Comedian lampoons the absurdity of drug ads

Writer-comedian Sarah Haskins has produced another segment of her popular satire on Current TV’s Target: Women, this time calling out the absurdity of television advertising in marketing drugs to women.

“Even though I’m old, I don’t want the horrifying side effects of aging to prevent me from doing what I love,” Haskins, who just turned 30, jokes. “I want to walk with canoes, peel oranges, play fetch with my pup, and do stuff with horses,” she says while a montage of images pulled from actual television drug ads plays. In one of the ads Haskins shows, anatomy takes the form of bouncing water balloons; in another, people are made of pipes. After all, cute, cartoon-like illustrations help lighten ads for drugs that pose very serious side effects for some people.

Amusing as Haskins’ Target episode is, it effectively illustrates just how outlandish and just plain silly some pharmaceutical advertising can be.

It’s also not the first time that Haskins has featured drug commercials on Target: Women. Last year, she spoofed big pharma television ads for birth control drugs, noting how they are touted as a way to have fewer periods more than anything else.

“Fewer periods! Yay! Now we don’t have to leave the tribe and go sit in that hut for a week. That was a bummer,” Haskins says.

Drugs developed for one thing but marketed as a treatment for something else is a common ruse employed by some pharmaceutical companies to make their products more enticing. Negative disclosures about the drugs, such as the legally required information about side effects, may be washed out with distracting music and visuals. That was how Bayer advertised Yaz last year, before the Food and Drug Administration cited the company for false and misleading advertising and ordered a redo.

“You may have seen some Yaz commercials recently that were not clear. The FDA wants us to correct a few points in those ads,” the presenter in the revised commercial says.

The Yaz advertisements spawned a number of video skits lampooning the drugmaker’s claims and the style in which they are presented: a group of girlfriends in a lively bar discussing side effects in a way that would never happen in real life. One woman, who says she “didn’t go to med school for nothing,” gives her friends an off the cuff and very clinical rundown of the drug’s risks while her friends listen intently.

Inserting herself into this scenario, Haskins asks “Does anyone think Stephanie is acting super weird right now?”

For all the risks attached to some blockbuster drugs, it’s good to see that the absurdity of drug advertising isn’t sliding by unnoticed.