Letters, July 28, 2008

Published on .

Ad groups far from tongue-tied

RE: "Big Pharma's Change of Heart on Ad Ban Is Too Little, Too Late." Advertising Age seems to overlook the critical distinction between a self-imposed time to refrain from advertising and a federal government ban on such advertising.

For the record, pharmaceutical advertising, like all other advertising, is commercial speech protected by the First Amendment. We believe Ad Age two years ago unwisely endorsed a government moratorium on advertising for new prescription medications. We opposed such a ban because of our strong belief that it would be unconstitutional -- and Congress agreed.

The U.S. Supreme Court 30 years ago voted to protect commercial speech because the justices understood how important advertising can be to each of us. Truthful ads about prescription medications prompted 39 million Americans to talk to their doctors about a health condition. Many of the diseases involved were serious or life threatening, such as diabetes, high cholesterol or stroke. Even inquiries involving so-called lifestyle drugs can lead to life-saving discoveries. It is estimated, based on surveys of physicians, that out of a million men prompted by advertising to seek treatment for erectile dysfunction, 140,000 were diagnosed with hypertension and 50,000 with heart disease.

The column also oversimplified the importance and complexity of educating the medical community about new medications. Rather than oppose "any sort of moratorium on new drug ads to consumers," as the column states, the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America in 2005 adopted a principle that companies should devote a significant amount of time educating physicians about a new medicine before they commence advertising. PhRMA recommends that rather than adopt an inflexible standard for all medicines, the amount of time should reflect the complexity of the risk-benefit profile of a new medicine and the knowledge of health-care professionals.

We believe the record shows that the industry as a whole has demonstrated both caution and responsibility in the timing and substance of its new-drug education programs for health professionals. Far from being tongue-tied, we think that is a responsible approach that we applauded when it was adopted nearly three years ago. We would hope that Ad Age would join us in opposition if a future Congress or state legislature proposes an unconstitutional government ban on this advertising.
Dick O'Brien,
Exec VP-director of government relations
American Association of Advertising Agencies

Jeff Perlman
Exec VP-government affairs/operations & general counsel
American Advertising Federation

Dan Jaffe
Exec VP-government relations
Association of National Advertisers

Offending gays no way to win share

RE: "An Open Letter to Omnicom President-CEO John Wren." Kudos to Bob Garfield for bringing up the need for greater awareness in the ad industry about the questionable effectiveness of gay stereotypes and homophobia for predictable punch lines.

While many like to fall back on the idea that gay stereotypes and homophobia will automatically sell, this is not borne out in research. To the contrary, the world is rapidly changing -- a generation of youth have now been raised by gay-friendly MTV (plus "Will & Grace," "Queer Eye," "The L Word," etc.), 94% of the Fortune 500 protects gay employees from discrimination, and same-sex couples can become legally bound in 11 states and 22 countries.

Advertising humor is different than stand-up comedy; its job is to make as many friends (also known as sales) for the brand as it can. Gay and lesbian jokes affect more than just an estimated 7% of the population; they also will bring negative responses from their family, friends and colleagues.

Agencies and clients will do much better by raising their awareness on these matters and seeking out best practices. Gays and lesbians are more than just a punch line, they're the bottom line.
Michael Wilke
Executive Director
Commercial Closet Association
New York


  • Re: "CEOs' Heirs Apparent? Clearly, CMOs." Alek Krstajic was CMO of BCE (Bell Canada Enterprises), not Bell Mobility. He went on to become president of Bell Mobility, BCE's wireless division.

  • Re: "Leading in Turbulent Times." The story erroneously stated that Arthur Sulzberger Jr. is CEO of The New York Times Co. Janet Robinson holds that post; he is chairman at The Times Co.
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