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Healthy Skepticism Library item: 14356

Warning: This library includes all items relevant to health product marketing that we are aware of regardless of quality. Often we do not agree with all or part of the contents.


Publication type: Journal Article

Martell J.
Buy me, I’ll change your life
Student BMJ 2008 Oct; 16:(350):10


Drug companies and their advertising agencies understand that doctors are not so different from their patients. Both are subject to the fears and fantasies that drive all of us; both are consumers, paying not only for the drugs but also for the emotionally charged meanings attached to them through advertising. Although doctors have a tendency to downplay their susceptibility to the wiles of the adman, evidence suggests that advertisements in medical journals affect them more than they would like to believe.1

One element of this privileged channel of communication between drug companies and doctors is the powerful visual and linguistic imagery of the advertisement.2 These images are used to appeal to unconscious desires within us all. It is a rhetorical form of persuasion, at odds with the rigour of rational argument demanded of evidence based medicine. To improve medical decision making, doctors need to start by acknowledging their vulnerability to the powers of persuasion of the advertising industry.3 From this might grow the desire to educate the profession as to how to look at advertising more critically to make prescription more rational and, in doing so, improve patient care…


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As an advertising man, I can assure you that advertising which does not work does not continue to run. If experience did not show beyond doubt that the great majority of doctors are splendidly responsive to current [prescription drug] advertising, new techniques would be devised in short order. And if, indeed, candor, accuracy, scientific completeness, and a permanent ban on cartoons came to be essential for the successful promotion of [prescription] drugs, advertising would have no choice but to comply.
- Pierre R. Garai (advertising executive) 1963