Monday, March 08, 2010

Quackery and Hucksterism

“What is the difference between unethical and ethical advertising? Unethical advertising uses falsehoods to deceive the public; ethical advertising uses truth to deceive the public.” ~Vilhjalmur Stefansson, 1964

There has been a preponderance of products claiming to aid vital organs from harm caused by lifestyles that are characterized by excessive indulgence in eating, bohemian living and other unsafe and immoderate diversions. So now we have products that address renal problems, cardiac diseases, diabetic ailments, optical deficiencies and a few more dubious cures that are probably in the drawing boards or pending applications to the BFAD by wellness (pharmaceutical?) companies and advertising agencies. I would think that there would be multinational pharmaceutical companies who would be more responsible and circumspect in this regard. I could only surmise that their parent companies abroad would not allow products with spurious claims be identified with their company, also, the legislation in the more advanced countries would be more stringent on products of this nature. The products that are in the market offer no proof at all to back up their claims. A nebulous caution said and flashed in a millisecond; “No approved therapeutic claim” seems to be the only absolution needed to free them from any blame arising from the products’ non-function, the misperception that it is all they need to cure their illnesses and the possible dire effects arising from this belief.
The frequencies of the advertisements by which these products are now aired are just a little less intense than those applied in detergents and shampoos advertising. With this kind of incessant repetitions I would presume that the claimed and speculated medicinal efficacy of these products have been drummed in effectively in the audiences’ minds. They are now happy in the belief that they can indulge just a bit more on things that are high cholesterol, carcinogen suspect, high sodium, and the overly sweet. Worst, they may even think that these products would be sufficient to substitute for the physician prescribed expensive maintenance medicines. While some of them may not be as blatant as to promise overtly a cure for sickness, they create through masterful advertising, the perception that they are truly efficacious. I think we should be on guard about perceptions because perceptions are most often mistaken for truths. By all appearances the ads, in spirit, are designed to make the consumer believe that the products being touted are truly effective despite the hurried caution that it is unproved.
Note that at the end of these advertisements a phrase is flashed in a split second saying “No approved therapeutic claims”. Does it mean that whatever is claimed or what has been the intended perception of the advertisement did not pass the scrutiny of the vettors and is meant to be a caveat to prospective buyers?
I do not understand why there is a need for such a caution. If there is a need to caution the consumers about certain products why allow them to be marketed at all. Sin products like cigarettes and alcoholic beverages are more responsible because they do not hide the fact that their products are harmful and that the consumers should consume them moderately, as in the case of alcoholic drinks and an outright admission to their being hazardous to health, as in the case of cigarettes. Sin products are more truthful than the products bearing “no approved therapeutic claim” blurb.
It seems that the early marketers of these easy cures tested the waters and when they were not rebuffed by the authorized guardians of consumer rights they became emboldened to invest on media intensive campaigns. Many products of the same ilk and bearing the same caution followed soon after.
We now have what I would call snake oil cures for ailments for every known ailment. Our poor consumers are predisposed to believe these dubious panaceas because of the prohibitive cost of conventional medicines. The penurious state of most of our consumers makes them easy prey to these unscrupulous merchants.
Shouldn’t the Food and Drug Administration and/or the Ad Board (self regulatory body of the ad industry screening advertisements prior to airing) have disallowed the airing of advertisements of products with unsubstantiated claims in an area that is potentially harmful to people? All they did to protect consumers was to put an intentionally indistinguishable blurb at the end of the ads saying “no approved therapeutic value”. I think consumers deserve more serious protection than that.
But then, who is to complain? The wheels of industry turn exceedingly well; the companies’ get their sales, media and ad agencies get their revenues from services rendered, government get higher tax yields. Happy days! More than usual, it’s only us, the consumers who get the shorter end of the stick.

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