22 January, 2008

The Shroud of Vytorin

I don't intend this article to be an indictment of the drug industry. Lord knows they're doing a fine enough job of making themselves look bad.

The fact Merck & Co. sat for a year on the knowledge that claims they were making about Vytorin--their cholesterol-reducing drug--were wholly untrue isn't unexpected or even surprising. Remember Vioxx? Drug companies spend huge sums of money on R&D for new drugs. Once investment has exceeded a certain critical mass, the drug companies are loathe to let something like the truth interfere with the investment-to-profit conversion process.

Right. Drug companies bad. Established. But what responsibility, if any, do we, the crafters of the demon's message, bear? A recent Advertising Age article, "Vytorin Ad Shame Taints Entire Marketing Industry" by Rich Thomaselli is flavored with the idea that, in the public's eye, we the marketers stink a bit, having rolled in the drug industry's poo.

I have to disagree with this assertion. I've researched this extensively (I beg you some latitude on the meaning of "extensively"), and I've found that our function is transparent to consumers. The messages we bring to consumers aren't perceived to have come through some third party. They seem to be the advertiser speaking directly to the consumer. Nobody blames the telephone company when bad news comes to them over the wire. Or, more to the point, nobody would claim that ABC bears any responsibility for airing Vytorin's bogus claims.

Marketers, like television stations, are messaging enablers. The public knows we can only work with what we're given. We're not investigative journalists. To have a genuine relationship with our clients, we must trust that they are, at least, being forthright with us concerning their claims. After all, for every story of drug company misadventure, there's a story where they play the role of hero.

I'm not worried. We, as a transparent communication enabler, get to sit on both sides of the fence. Merck has a lot of explaining and apologizing to do. And we ad folks will be there to craft the message.

For right now, though, expect everyone to see Vytorin in a different light.

Jason Bloom, Senior Avid Editor

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