This baby boomer is sick of drug ads

If you watch television, you can’t miss ‘em: the relentless barrage of ads for prescription and over-the-counter medications to treat virtually every malady under the sun. In fact, the Nielsen Company estimates that there’s an average of 80 drug ads every hour of every day on American television.

It’s enough to make you sick.

While I don’t doubt that many of these remedies really do help people—not to mention make boatloads of money for the drug makers—the ads themselves are getting tougher to take. Here’s what sticks in my craw:

What’s with all the animated characters interacting with humans?

Seriously. A cartoon bladder with soulful eyes grabs a woman by the hand and drags her to the bathroom before she can get her bowling shoes. Some furry word creatures meant to represent “sleep” and “awake” act out a woman’s struggle with insomnia. As a celebrity steps from a limo onto the red carpet, her toenail fungus—represented by a giant animated foot—steals the spotlight.

Then there are the full-on cartoon spots. Like the one showing a cloud of depression following a woman everywhere she goes. Or the greenish blobs of talking mucus sent packing by an expectorant. Or the computer-animated bee—with the voice of Antonio Banderas, no less—shilling for a nasal allergy spray.

Do the marketing masterminds behind these ads really think that adult women (and so many of these ads seem to target us boomer women) need cartoon characters to explain what a drug can do? One marketing exec said his company wanted to talk about overactive bladder in a “relatable and engaging way.”

Well, here’s a news flash, asshat: I’m 62 years old—I don’t relate to, nor do I want to engage with, a freakin’ cartoon bladder if I’m having trouble getting to the bathroom on time.

And hold the schmaltz, please

The emotional manipulation that marketers aim for in drug ads drives me up the wall. Some of these TV spots have such stirring orchestral scores that I expect to see Lawrence of Arabia come loping across the screen on a camel.

Then there are the tug-at-your-heartstrings scenes that play out while the voice-over relates the FDA-mandated litany of a drug’s major potential side effects. One that gets my goat (for a drug that treats inflammatory disorders like rheumatoid arthritis and Crohn’s disease) shows a father making a dollhouse for his daughter while the announcer mentions how the drug increases the risk of tuberculosis, other life-threatening viral, fungal and bacterial infections, and a form of cancer that’s often fatal.

Am I supposed to be so engrossed by the sweet father-daughter interaction that I don’t really hear what the announcer is saying? Or is the subliminal message that nothing bad could happen if the drug enables such a heartwarming slice of life? This is an ad for a heavy-duty drug, for crying out loud—not a Hallmark card.

Despite my aversion, schmaltz evidently sells because the drug companies are making money hand over fist. For example, the drug I mentioned above helped double profits for its parent company in the third quarter of 2015—fueled, no doubt, by ads like this that encourage consumers to ask their doctors about it.

All drug ads, all the time

I know other products and services are advertised on TV. But it really seems like the drug ads dominate. Out of seven spots that ran in one recent commercial break during a morning news show, five of them were for drugs.

And the subject matter would have my late father-in-law—a most proper Bostonian—blushing and rolling his eyes. Post-menopausal women wearing nothing but a sheet and a come-hither look hawk a solution for vaginal dryness as I sip my morning tea. Ads touting remedies for gas, constipation and diarrhea run at dinnertime. And spots for urinary incontinence splatter the airways day and night.

Don’t even get me started on the erectile dysfunction ads

Then there are the ads for erectile dysfunction (ED) drugs. First of all, the guys in these ads look like they’re barely into their forties, they’re fit and trim, and easy on the eyes. Do you seriously expect me to believe they can’t get it up without an ED pill?

Okay, okay…I shouldn’t make assumptions. But according to WebMD, only about 5% of 40-year-old men have ED, while studies by University of Chicago researchers found that one-third of men aged 50 to 64 have it. That figure jumps to about 44% for men aged 65 to 85. And obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure and clogged arteries are often factors. So in the context of “truth in advertising,” no, I really don’t think most guys who look like the ones in the ads need an ED drug.

But another issue I have with these ads is this: While older men are no doubt delighted to have a pill that restores their sexual potency, I’m betting that some percentage of their same-age partners are less enthusiastic. Why? Because our older lady parts can’t take an extended session of pounding intercourse that these drugs make possible.

“Hey, honey, why don’t you pop a little blue pill so you can stay hard for hours?” said no postmenopausal woman ever. Well, none that I know in real life, anyway. Which inspires this haiku:

Viagra makes things
harder than they need to be.
Can’t we just cuddle?

And one more thing: What marketing genius came up with the side-by-side outdoor bathtub thing? If the couple is supposed to be getting in the mood, at least put ‘em in a tub together, for Pete’s sake. And who would schlep two claw-foot bathtubs to the water’s edge of a beach anyway (those suckers weigh a ton)? Where does the water come from to fill the tubs and how in hell does it stay warm? The entire scene is just so ridiculous that I can’t suspend my disbelief for a minute.

I must admit, however, that as much as I dislike drug ads, chances are I’ll be welcoming their absurdity as a diversion when the presidential election heats up and political ads begin to dominate the airways. I’ll check back with you then…

Okay, rant over.

What about you—what do you think of drug advertising? Got a favorite, or one that really drives you crazy? Please share…


Roxanne Jones

About Roxanne Jones

By day, Roxanne Jones is an award-winning freelance copywriter specializing in health and medicine. She launched Boomer Haiku, a humorous blog about life as a baby boomer, in 2015, and a Boomer Haiku greeting card line in 2016 (available at 6 Maine stores; visit to learn more). Born and raised in Brunswick, she left Maine after high school (Class of 1971) and, after living in Massachusetts and California, came screaming back to her home state in 2006. She enjoys chardonnay, laughing at the foibles and frustrations of getting older, and contemplates plastic surgery to get rid of the wattle on her neck.