George Orwell coined the phrase “newspeak” in his 1948 novel Nineteen Eighty-Four (1984). In the novel, it is described as being “the only language in the world whose vocabulary gets smaller every year.” An example of Orwellian newspeak is the elimination of the word ‘bad’ and replacing it with “ungood.” That sort of thing. Eventually, by eliminating enough words you can make anything sound less “ungood” as exemplified by the slogan “War is Peace.”
Now another well-known British entity — GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) — has applied newspeak principles to direct-to-consumer (DTC) advertising. It’s latest promotional video for the over-the-counter diet pill (“treatment”) Alli blatantly replaces all the nasty-sounding Alli side effect terminology — including “Oily Spotting,” “Flatus with Discharge,” “Fecal Urgency,” “Oily Evacuation,” and “Fecal Incontinence” (see table of side effects here) — with the single, much less provocative term “Treatment Effect.” See the video below.
This, I contend, is a new high (or low, depending upon your perspective) in pharma marketing BS. Recall, that the essence of bullshit is “indifference to the facts” (see “Is Big Pharma Shifty?“).
This particular video ad, however, goes beyond mere words and also utilizes a form of “visual newspeak” to calm consumers’ fears of “treatment effects.” I refer to the image halfway through this video showing a man dressed all in white (see image at left).
This is an interesting image to use as a representation of a satisfied Alli user.
The educational material to be supplied with Alli when it hits pharmacy shelves in the US next week recommends that you wear dark clothing until you are able to overcome the oily spotting, err, I mean “treatment effects.”
FDA Approved OTC But Not DTC!
The video also makes a big deal of the fact that Alli is the “only FDA-approved over the counter weight loss product.” What the video DOESN’T tell you, however, is that the FDA does NOT approve ads for OTC products like Alli. If it did, perhaps this little newspeak Alli ad would get at least a slap on the wrist from the FDA (ie, a “warning letter”).
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) DOES regulate OTC advertising. But the FTC doesn’t care whether side effects are adequately communicated as does the FDA. The FTC is only interested in whether or not any false claims are being made. If the ad said, for example, that on average people lose 30 pounds in the first year with Alli (as opposed to the actual 15 pounds), then the FTC might slap GSK with a fine (something that the FDA cannot do, by the way).
Unfortunately, FTC has no jurisdiction over newspeak and the Alli ads are “honky dory” — or should I say, not ungood — as far as they are concerned.
Hat Tip to PharmaGossip for the video.