Making Drugs More Visible

According to this week’s article on the Web site Color Matters, the lessening of direct-to-consumer advertising restrictions in recent years has spawned intense changes in the market.  “The color and shape of the pills and the names and imagery used to sell products are heavily researched and tested, much like the drugs themselves.” For example, Levitra determined that men were turned off by the blue color of Viagra pills, and so decided to make their pills a vibrant orange. Given the free-market premise of the modern pharmaceutical industry, it stands to reason that if the drug companies are spending so much time and money on pleasing the consumer’s every whim, there is a reason: Today’s consumers are informed and they often are informed by visible rhetoric.  Thus, the pharmaceutical company must use visual rhetoric to convince the consumer that a certain product is the ideal one so that consumer can approach her physician about it.

In Prescribing by Numbers: Drugs and the Definition of Disease, Jeremy Green posits a shift in how medical knowledge is packaged differently today than it was just a few years ago. Direct-to-consumer marketing has changed the landscape of the industry. This is largely, I believe, because of the different methods of visible rhetoric that companies must use in appealing to a broad public audience rather than to an audience of physicians. The public is informed regarding medical knowledge and treatment today in a way it never has been before , and this is precisely because of the greatly increased impact that visible rhetoric now has on society.

One intensely interesting facet of Greene’s book is the fact that more and more Americans are being medicated now than ever. I think this is because of direct-to-consumer marketing and its focus on visible rhetoric. With direct access to consumers, drug companies work to make these markets ever larger. “The threshold for high blood pressure may continue to move lower until there is very little normal left between the pathologically high and the pathologically low … ” (230). While Greene does point out that this cannot go on forever, the truth is that there is always another chronic condition to be exploited/mediated/medicated. For example, the fight against cholesterol only began in the 1950s and 1960s. By the time cholesterol is taken care of, another medical crisis will have risen and drug companies will have found a way to market it. Clearly, society’s increasing emphasis on visible rhetoric and the quickly expanding drug market are very much related.

Work Cited

Greene, Jeremy A. Prescribing by Numbers: Drugs and the Definition of Disease. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2007.


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