Don’t Read the Fine Print!
By Patrick F. Cannon
I’m sure the television networks and local stations were in near panic mode when tobacco advertising was banned in 1971. No more happy faces extolling the virtues of their favorite brand as they merrily skipped toward an early grave. Could they survive with only detergent, deodorant, cereal and gasoline commercials? Little did they know it, but salvation would eventually come to their rescue.
As often has been the case, the Supreme Court and Federal regulators would take a hand and provide replacements – and then some. Throwing hundreds of years of legal tradition out the window, it was decided in 1977 that the American Bar Association’s Canon of Ethics ban on lawyer’s advertising their services was an unconstitutional limitation on their exercise of free speech. Lawyers who once exhausted themselves by chasing ambulances could now put up a billboard or air a cheaply produced commercial reminding citizens of their God given right to sue! Who in Chicago has not heard that adornment of the legal profession, Glenn Lerner, reminding his listeners: “in a wreck, need a check?”
Now, it’s true that some law firms show a bit more dignity. Instead of showing crashing cars and trucks, they have actual (sometimes) real clients proudly boasting about the millions they got through the exertions of their lawyers; of course, the lawyers rarely mention that they likely got almost half of it, and only take cases they know they’ll win, despite their protestations that they’re champions of the little man.
The docs beat them to the punch, although they have not been quite so aggressive. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) gave them the right to advertise in 1975, although most – plastic surgeons and sex docs excepted – have mostly limited their advertising to a web site. I should add, however, that hospitals have been extremely aggressive in touting their sterling records, and this of course trickles down to the docs on their staffs.
Dentists have been more aggressive, particularly those who replace your real teeth with false ones screwed into your jaw bones. They tout easy financing, but don’t mention that a full set of chompers might cost you 50 grand.
But the real windfall, particularly for the networks, has been prescription drug ads. I’ve never been quite sure what these hope to accomplish. One supposes the idea is to get the suffering patient to urge their physician to replace their current pills with the latest miracle drug. They may also feed into the significant percentage of the population (are you one?) who imagine, without evidence of any kind, that they must be about to take to their death beds, despite not having even the slightest real symptoms.
Why anyone would eagerly want to take Bombasta, Exultuma, or Fracaraca after learning their scary side effects is beyond me. The Federal Drug Administration (FDA) insists that these ads at least highlight their direst side effects, which might run from a runny nose to instant death. But if you really want to be frightened, ignore the TV ads and look at the print ads. One page will show a smiling patient gamboling on a beach with his Poodle. But do turn the page and read every one of the thousands of words of warning. You might need a magnifying glass and a stiff glass of bourbon. On the other hand, maybe you should just trust your physician to read it for you.
(And then there are election ads, but you’ll have to wait until next week to learn how they have penetrated deep into the mountain hollows.)
Copyright 2018, Patrick F. Cannon