The People's Perspective on Medicine

Why Are People Having So Much Fun on Drug Commercials?

Do you ever watch television? If so, you know it's almost impossible to avoid prescription drug commercials. Do you find the ads misleading? One reader does
Couple Strolling Hand in Hand on Beach

Have you ever watched prescription drug commercials on television? It’s hard NOT to. They have proliferated like weeds after a spring rain. There’s Chantix to stop smoking, Vraylar for acute mania of bipolar 1 disorder, Entresto for heart failure, Ilumya for plaque psoriasis and Humira for rheumatoid arthritis. Have you ever noticed how much fun people have once they start taking the advertised medication? This reader says enough already!

Are Drug Commercials Misleading?

Q. Drug ads on TV aimed at consumers are misleading. I was diagnosed with highly aggressive rheumatoid arthritis (RA). My feet, ankles, knees and wrists are most affected.

The ads for meds to help RA sufferers show unhappy, miserable people unable to do ‘fun’ things. Then after they take the advertised med, suddenly happy people are running around doing all kinds of things with their hands and feet.

Take my word for it: true RA victims could not engage in these activities with such energy. I consider this false advertising. For my RA, I take methotrexate and a powerful intravenous biologic.

A. We agree that most prescription drug commercials emphasize the benefits and downplay the risks. The visual images of people having fun distract viewers from the list of often serious side effects such as fatal infections, lymphoma or heart failure.

The Humira TV Commercials:

Don’t believe us, take a look at this Humira commercial for rheumatoid arthritis

In the opening scene we see a rooster crowing with the voice over telling you “this is your wakeup call.” The announcer then goes on to scare people with RA:

“the clock is ticking on irreversible joint damage. Ongoing pain and stiffness are signs of joint erosion. Humira can help stop the clock.”

Then you begin to hear about side effects. As the announcer mentions:

“Humira can lower your ability to fight infections. Serious and sometimes fatal infections including tuberculosis and cancers including lymphoma have happened as have blood, liver and nervous system problems. Serious allergic reactions and new or worsening heart failure.”

While the side effect information is being read you see people being active and smiling. They are doing yoga or playing with a soccer ball. The scene ends with women running on a beach as the sun is setting.

According to the drug industry watchdog, FiercePharma (Jan. 2, 2019):

“Drugmakers kept spending big—and, in fact, went even bigger, dropping more than $3.73 billion on national TV commercials last year, according to data from real-time TV ad tracker That’s an increase of almost $300 million over the 2017 tally.

“AbbVie anti-inflammatory Humira continued to lead the pack with $375 million spent on 18 commercials across the three conditions the company advertises against. That marked an increase of $34 million over 2017’s tally. By indication, Humira spent the most on arthritis TV ads ($212 million), followed by Crohn’s and colitis ($115 million) and psoriasis ($47 million), according to iSpot data.”

Distracting by Smiling:

Drug companies have perfected the art of distraction. Most drug commercials have a long list of scary side effects. The best way to divert attention from words like cancer, confusion, stroke, coma or death is to show people having fun and smiling.

Next time the announcer starts reciting side effects start counting smiles. Here’s our take on the smile distraction strategy:

Do NOT Trust People Smiling During Drug Commercials

What To Do About Drug Commercials?

We wish the FDA were stricter in its oversight of these ads. We have complained to no avail.

For example, there are drug commercials that encourage you to talk to your doctor about Chantix to stop smoking. We have suggested that people might be distracted from the side effect information by the visual images. The FDA apparently disagrees. What do you think?

Slow Turkey Chantix Drug Commercials:

There are a series of ads showing an animated turkey doing some un-turkey-like things. The catch phrase is:

“It’s tough to quit smoking cold turkey. So Chantix can help you quit slow turkey.”

See for yourself by clicking on these commercials and tell us you are not distracted by the strong visual images of the turkey doing its human-like activities.

“Paddle Board Turkey”

“Camping Turkey”

“Cold Turkey”

If you are fed up with drug commercials on television, check out this article. We have shared what other people think about these ads. Time to fight back!

Are Prescription Drug Ads on TV Driving You Crazy?

Share your thoughts about drug commercials in the comment section.

PS: Do you also dislike ads on websites like ours? We do not blame you. We wish we did not have to have any ads on Unfortunately, we cannot maintain this website without some revenue to offset the costs of bringing you an independent perspective on prescription drugs, vitamins, dietary supplements and home remedies. But we do have an option for you that would eliminate all ads. If you go to this link, you can browse our site ad-free by making a modest donation. Please consider supporting our work by going ad-free.

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    About the Author
    Joe Graedon is a pharmacologist who has dedicated his career to making drug information understandable to consumers. His best-selling book, The People’s Pharmacy, was published in 1976 and led to a syndicated newspaper column, syndicated public radio show and web site. In 2006, Long Island University awarded him an honorary doctorate as “one of the country's leading drug experts for the consumer.” .
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    My husband and I were perplexed by the Opdivo commercials that asked “Wouldn’t you like the chance to do more living?”. If you’ve got non-small cell lung cancer that is not responding to other meds, and you take Opdivo you are not likely to be out watching the grandkids’ ballgame or taking a hike in the woods. And the fine print says it only gives you about another few weeks to as much as 3 months longer to live. But what kind of shape are you in??

    It would be nice to have a natural alternative listed in a comments box next to the drug, thus giving people more alternatives to their problems. Remember, many drugs interact, and many seniors are on multiple drugs from multiple drs. Can you say “ching/ching?” I know that some herbals especially interact with many meds. We need to lower the costs to approve new meds, thus lowering the time of patents, therefore getting cheaper generic alternatives to the people. Thanks.

    This is exactly what I do about drug commercials: HIT THE MUTE BUTTON IMMEDIATELY. Man! I detest being treated like an idiot.

    I am diabetic. I am not happily dancing around all the time. The ads show people all excited about taking the once-a-week non-insulin options, but what they don’t tell you is that you lose weight because you are sick all the time. On Trulicity I was sick to my stomach with nausea and diarrhea for a good six weeks. Of course I lost weight! They barely warn about the frequent incidence of low blood sugar, but do not stress the danger of death from it as much as they need to. After several years on Trulicity I am still not dancing around and still not happy to be diabetic.

    My husband and I chucked cable tv. The drug commercials are ridiculous and are so repetitive! Neither one of us is on any medication and plan to stay that way as long as possible.
    Got time? Get up and go for a walk if you can!

    It’s disgusting. But we’re living in the post-truth era, so don’t expect any government agency to react positively to complaints. Only profits for corporations matter; people don’t.

    Yes, as a psychotherapist, I, too, have some concerns about television drug advertisements, especially for psychotropic medications. I think the ads can be misleading in that they portray the person with the designated mental illness as having all these life problems, then taking the advertised medication, and suddenly everything is fine. Hmm… Let’s just take depression as an example. Anti-depressants can take anywhere from 4 to 8 weeks to fully take effect. So, no the patient isn’t just going to take a pill and all will be well. This type of advertising can set patients up for false expectations and then disappointment when the medication doesn’t lead to instant results.

    Try closing your eyes and just listening to these commercials. It changes your perspective.

    I live in Ontario, Canada. I do not believe that this type of television advertising for ‘drugs’ is permitted here, since I think that the only ads of this type we do see are on the U.S. stations we sometimes watch — we quickly mute the sound. If these ads wouldn’t be encouraging and influencing so many suffering from medical issues, they might be laughable.

    The only daily drug I will ever take is Olmesartan, which replaced Benicar. Too many side affects of the rest.

    I had to laugh when I saw the title of your article. Not only are they shown happy taking the drug, but they’re shown unhappy, life in danger, by not taking the drug. Why are overweight people shown in the diabetic drug commercials, when weight may be their problem? Our area has had a hospital rebrand itself and you would think going there is as much fun as Disneyland, according to the commercials. Are we becoming that gullible?

    I have complained for years to every magazine accepting drug ads, even cancelled subscriptions with a letter of complaint. People should not be choosing prescription drugs based on TV ad’s or 5 page ads in your favorite cooking magazine. This just adds to the cost of the drug, for all of us, directly or indirectly, hurting those who really need them.
    Costs of all medical procedures are out of control, bankrupting all of us. Nothing is free, somebody pays for the BS…..

    I’ve noted for years that the drug ads create an atmosphere of relaxation and play while stating the cautions for their products. Cautions on cigarette boxes never did this. Drug companies should be required to state their required cautions on a black background with the only sound being that of the ad’s voice.

    Do we dislike ads on your website? Well I almost laughed out loud when the very next ad on your website was “Fruit Loops Birthday Cake Cereal.” What a box of sugar & bad health that is! The real winners are the conglomerate corporations and pharmaceutical companies who laughing all the way to the bank while all of us carrot-chompers wonder why sheeple are so unhealthy!

    Mary, we wish our website could exist without ads! You can go ad-free by supporting this effort. Just go to

    Help us eventually eliminate ads for everyone!

    Totally agree about the drug commercials on TV. Is it any wonder that people want to take prescription drugs as advertised. In my opinion the ads just encourage people to take more drugs and now the drug companies are being blamed for the opiode crisis. Yes, they are part of the problem but what about the doctors who prescribed the drugs. Of course, there is really one purpose for blaming only the drug companies and that is where the money will come from. And as others have noted I mute the drug ads.

    I thought I was the only one annoyed by these commercials with the smiling faces while the announcer is spewing out numerous possible side effects. I even mentioned it to my doctor recently who only smiled but didn’t comment. The matter was put in perspective when a doctor on NBC stated that all drugs have side effects a few months ago. Many of these drugs are challenging to take and also expensive, and lately there have been stories of people who are losing their lives because they cannot afford their medications. These commercials are nothing to smile about and need to stop. I don’t have a problem with these companies putting the benefits of what they are selling out there, but you don’t have to smile about it. Or maybe they are smiling over all of the potential monetary benefits.

    Drug companies don’t care if their products are damaging as long as they can convince doctors to keep prescribing them, and insurance companies to pay for them.

    Something else to be noted, is people with health conditions in need of medication see these misleading commercials, and insist that their Dr. prescribe that specific drug, when in reality it may not be the best solution for them.

    Why not record the show and fast forward through ALL the commercials? It’s a shame that the USA and New Zealand are the only two countries that allow drug commercials on tv.

    I’ve learned to close my eyes to shut out all those happy-mood pictures & just LISTEN to what they are saying. There are a lot of those drugs I’ll never take because the treatment (never a cure!) is more dangerous than the condition.
    I especially wonder about the drug for COPD that says not to take if you have asthma because it contains an ingredient that can cause death in asthmatics. Then it says the risk for COPD is unknown. Wait…what?!?!?

    I have felt exactly the same way! The blood thinner commercials are awful. The grandma is jogging in town with a smile on her face. Even not on medication, runners are focused on their run and are not smiling. My husband was on blood thinners 3 months and was sick and miserable the whole time from side effects. He wasn’t out smiling and jogging in the park.

    It is Pointless to contact the FDA about any drug commercial! The pharmacutical industry Owns the power leadership of the FDA. A simple check of the consistent source of FDA leadership coming from the pharmacutical industry should veriy this assumption. The answer to every question is $$$$!!

    Re: drug commercials. Yes, watching the actors smiling and having a delightful time while listening to a list of potential life-threatening side effects is distracting and annoying. Consider replacing the actors with the text being read.

    You have to think that someone besides the drug companies are profiting from these ads. We keep hearing about healthcare reform and the need for more affordable prescription prices, yet nothing happens. Those ads are well produced and expensive, and they get a lot of play time. Yet the people we elect give us just enough lip service to make us think they care while never actually doing anything. What’s the “pay off” for them?

    I find it hard to believe that most people believe any of the garbage in those ads. All I hear is that list of side effects being quietly read in the background (notice how they’ve speeding through so it’s barely understandable). How often do you hear the word “death?” I hear it in just about every ad.

    My husband will immediately mute the television when a drug commercial comes on. I detest them. It is pure insanity how big pharma can continue to keep churning these ads out. A vicious cycle, as we see more drug commercials than any other type, especially during the news. Even now, I’ve noticed they are increasing on the weekends. Brainwashing at its best..and sadly, billions of people are dying a slow death..yet believe their drugs are a miracle.

    Well of course they smile. They are getting paid! Ever notice too that all look trim, and fit; accepted standards of beauty, and seem to be sailing or inspecting the vineyard or some other thing indicating wealth? People look at the beautiful overstuffed burgers and sandwiches and buy into those myths too tho the reality is far different. Big Pharma counts on wishful thinking and gullibility.

    TV commercials for prescription drugs should never have been made legal. There are literally drug commercials every break in programming on sattelite TV in the afternoon when I get off of work. What really irritates me are the statements at the end. “Having trouble affording (insert drug name here)? We might be able to help.” This is like stealing someone’s wallet then offering to help the victim search for it.

    All such advertising is misleading.
    It also makes one aware that one needs a good chunk of money to afford such wonderful solutions.

    I also do not expect to tell the doctor what I need, that is his obligation.

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