I’m a big fan of OTC medication, mainly because the idea of going to a doctor for a headache or cold irritates me. OTCs are on my mind due to a minor illness that’s kept me preoccupied for the last 24 hours. I have less patience for the prescription drug regulations, but that’s a post for another day.
Today, I’m actually more curious about the OTCs or, more accurately, supplements that don’t necessarily line store shelves and market themselves through mini infomercials. You know the ones I’m talking about—weight loss and male “enhancement” are two categories that frequently fall in this category. They’re the modern-day descendants of patent medicines originally sold by traveling salesmen making claims about the healing power of their concoctions. I was interested to discover that “the rise of advertising in America, not coincidentally, paralleled the rise of nostrums.” (link)
“It is a most extraordinary thing, but I never read a patent medicine advertisement without being impelled to the conclusion that I am suffering from the particular disease therein dealt with in its most virulent form.”
Granted, the main characters in this story are a group of hypochondriacs, but doesn’t the point hold true? We’re more susceptible to believing something when we want to believe, regardless of the reality. So, here we are in the 21st century, with more information at our fingertips than ever, and we’re still willing to be seduced by the notion that something “cures.”
You won’t see many claims for formulas curing cancer or other major diseases. The FDA closely regulates/monitors such claims. However, others slip under the radar. Key words to “soften” the claims on these products include: helping, looks, appears, and reduces to name a few. By including these words, marketers can say they aren’t making a hard claim, requiring proof; they’re merely suggesting potential results. To further protect themselves, marketers also include the familiar, “Individual results may vary.”
From my viewpoint, the most seductive aspect of marketing these products is the unsaid portion. Usually, this part comes in the form of images. Before and after pictures are particularly useful when marketing weight loss products. We tend to skip over the other details like “sensible diet and exercise” and jump to the end result, believing, “I can look like that, too.” If marketers actual told the truth*, I wonder how many would chase after these quick fixes? I appreciate that advertisers do not always stand to gain by telling the truth*. However, if it became the standard instead of the exception, wouldn’t we be exposed to more quality products and experiences?