Some people find drug company marketing reprehensible, and apparently nobody more so than these four organizations: the Center for Digital Democracy, U.S. PIRG, Consumer Watchdog, and the World Privacy Forum. They have filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission accusing drug companies of everything except kidnapping and insider trading. The complaint runs to 144-pages, and cites such transgressions as,

  • The practice of medical “condition targeting,” covering such illnesses as depression, COPD, diabetes, and asthma, based on a person’s use of online health information services and digital behaviors;
  • The eavesdropping on online discussions of health consumers via social media data mining, enabling pharmaceutical companies to hone marketing campaigns for drug brands;
  • The collection of data on a consumer’s actions related to health concerns via online profiling and behavioral tracking in order to track and target them for medical advertising;
  • The use of viral and so-called “word-of-mouth” techniques online to drive interest in prescriptions, over-the counter drugs, and health remedies;

Some of these sound kind of tenuous, but the corker is the last one:

  • The influencing of subconscious perceptions via pharma-focused “neuromarketing.”

[From CDD, U.S. PIRG, Consumer Watchdog, and World Privacy Forum Call on FTC to Investigate Interactive Marketing of Pharmaceutical and Health Products and Services to Consumers and Health Professionals.]

I’d be the first to agree that drug marketing could be reined in; my own pet peeve is the spending of billions of dollars to market drugs without a proven performance advantage over cheaper, off-patent drugs. That’s fine for a shampoo maker where the consumer decides whether or not the product is worth its price, but not for a firm who wants to be reimbursed by the government or private insurance (and hence, by you and me via taxes and higher insurance premiums).

Still, this complaint is so wide-ranging I think it is unlikely to have any impact at all.

I’d be really interested to see some of the supposed examples of “neuromarketing influencing our subconscious perceptions.” About the only reference I was able to find was an OTOI webinar on how pharma companies could improve their websites via eye-tracking and other biometric measures. This is hardly a unique effort, as just about every website could benefit from this kind of study (even those of advocacy groups!).

If anyone comes up with a good example of drug company brainwashing-via-neuromarketing, I’ll be sure to write about it here. Drop me a note or post it in the comments.
Image via Shutterstock

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