How Big Pharma Uses Fear in Their Age-Related Ads

big pharma

“Fear Marketing is an interesting emotion, which affects the thought process and reaction of individuals. Therefore, fear can be used as a unique marketing tool in order to make the consumers loyal to a particular product or a service.” Seminar on Marketing Strategy, NYU

Nursing a tennis injury to my ankle had me sitting on the couch, leg elevated, and trying to find something to occupy my mind. Inactivity is not my cup of tea, so after exhausting reading material, polishing my latest book on my laptop, and doing acrostic puzzles, I did the tried and true—I turned on the television. I was bored and I needed distraction.

There’s not a whole lot to watch on regular TV, but I had gone through all my saved DVR-shows, so I flipped channels trying to find something interesting, but not too mind-taxing to watch. Of course, there were commercials and those I watched in growing curiosity and, then total bafflement.

What I saw a lot of was a strategic business ploy called fear-marketing, geared toward anyone over the age of 55.  According to these commercials, that age seems to be the cut-off age for good health. After that number, according to the commercials innuendos, it’s all a downhill slide.

The calm, almost mesmerizing voices of the actors warned me about all the health problems I more than likely would encounter when I hit the “double-nickel”. Almost all of them were either life-threatening, debilitating, mentally and physically detrimental, desperate situations not only for me, but my family as well, and downright terrifying.

I wasn’t buying into any of this, however. Having a daughter who is a professor of marketing, I knew that many ads and commercials play to the fears and concerns of certain age groups. Obviously, some marketing genius saw a wide-open market for the “older generation” and decided to play on our natural human fears of illness, disability, and mortality.

In advertising, there is something called fear appraisal or fear appeal that companies use to assess the reaction in control-study audiences. This is especially important for Big Pharma which uses consumers’ fears concerning illnesses to sell their products. Fear is a big motivator when it comes to health.

Marketers are savvy and know what works. They know that the direct approach is the best one, they point out a fear that already exists and then hit you with an ad that plays to your desire to avoid that health problem. Here’s how they sell their medications. They take a health fear, an age group, and begin the fear campaign like this:

  • Your age-group is more than likely to be affected by this illness, disease, infection, etc.
  • When it affects you, (and they ominously let you know that it will), it will be painful. However—you have the ability to avoid this pain, if you use their product, medication, etc.
  • because only they can help you. Isn’t that nice of them?

It is a subtle form of brain-washing. Watch these commercials often enough and even the most skeptical of us can be alarmed by what “could” happen to us.

But common sense and a practical way of thinking eventually helps us adjust the fear-factor brought on by this brain-washing technique. The questions remain, however, what should you do about this television info as far as your health goes? Is there a real cause for concern? Let’s look at this in a sensible manner.

Be practical. Your chances of getting any of these health problems are lower than you think. A good example is the varicella zoster virus, commonly known as Shingles. In people over 50, only 6 people in every 1000 get Shingles and if your immune system is good, your risk factor is significantly lower. It is the same with many of the health problems you see in commercials. Your chances of having any of them are much lower than the ads or commercials would like you to believe.

So, what should you do?

Make sure you have a doctor who doesn’t see ageing as a disease and doesn’t automatically believe that you are prone to all ailments simply because you’ve passed the “magic number”. Discuss any concerns with her or him, but be careful if the doctor pushes for something you feel isn’t right for you, not necessary, or is questionable. You may be seeing someone who has a monetary or other compensation connection with a pharmaceutical company. Find a new doctor.

Research. We live in an era where info is available at the click of a mouse. Find out all you can about real health risk factors of diseases, medications, and side effects, what’s absolutely necessary and what isn’t. Check statistics.  It’s your body; you know it best and you know what you need and how it reacts.

Remember that fear marketing is named that for a reason. They play on your fears concerning the one thing that is of paramount importance to you—your health.

Lastly, look at what scientists already know. Research shows that you’re likely to live an average of about 10 years longer than your parents and more likely to live healthier, longer lives as well.

As for me, I’m DVR-ing all shows from now on so that I can skip the commercials. Fear marketing is one thing I don’t need in my life.

I’m pretty well healed—I’ll see you on the tennis courts, “magic number” be damned.

© 2018 copyright Kristen Houghton all rights reserved

Kristen HoughtonKristen Houghton is the author of nine novels, two non-fiction books, a collection of short stories, a book of essays, and a children’s novella. Her latest novel, DO UNTO OTHERS, is book 4 in her best-selling series, A Cate Harlow Private Investigation. She is also the author of the Horror Writers of America award-winning Quick-Read, Welcome to Hell.

Kristen Houghton has covered politics, news, and lifestyle issues as a contributor to the Huffington Post and Thrive Global. Her writing portfolio includes Criminal Element Magazine, a division of Macmillan Publishing, Hartford Woman, Today, former senior fiction editor at Bella Magazine, interviews and reviews for HBO documentaries, OWN, The Oprah Winfrey Network, and The Style Channel. Twitter @kristenhoughton  Instagram@kristenhoughton2 Website

Kristen Houghton
Author: Kristen Houghton

Kristen Houghton’s new book, Lilith Angel, was published in April, 2019 and is already in the top “fiction top five” by Nielson Ratings. She is the author of nine novels, two non-fiction books, a collection of short stories, a book of essays, and a children’s novella. The first four books in her best-selling series, A Cate Harlow Private Investigation, are now available in a special boxset. She is also the author of the Horror Writers of America award-winning Quick-Read, Welcome to Hell.

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