How to brand a disease — and sell a cure

Elliot, C. (2010). “How to brand a disease—and sell a cure .” CNN. Retrieved on 11 October, 2010:

Carl Elliott in his article for CNN cites examples of how pharmaceutical companies sell a cure by disease branding. Drug companies today are embracing the ideology that Edward Bernays’, the father of PR proposed—The public relations business was less about selling things than about creating the conditions for things to sell themselves.

Why disease branding works? As Carl Elliott states in his article, disease branding is particularly effective in two types of situations. Let us consider the first situation, a shameful condition that can be de-stigmatized through disease branding. If a condition, however shameful, is prevalent enough in the common population then a ready market exists for the cure. It is the rare shameful condition for which a market typically does not exist where disease branding will help ‘create’ a market. Individuals with this rare condition would need to overcome the stigma attached with such conditions and discuss them with their health care providers. By branding a disease and de-stigmatizing the condition, the pharmaceutical companies act as catalysts and enablers to the process of individuals coming forward and discussing the condition with health care providers.

In the second situation where disease branding is effective is a condition that can be plausibly portrayed as being under-diagnosed. By portraying that the condition as under-diagnosed, it hyper sensitizes individuals to the symptoms of such conditions. The argument that the condition is under-diagnosed is also a ready alibi to the presence of the condition in individuals displaying similar symptoms.

Pharmaceutical companies spend more on marketing than research—almost twice as much. Part of these costs often go toward hiring expensive PR firms, celebrity spokespeople, and physicians and academics to pedal their wares.

On Concept:

The concept is ingenious and one that the PR industry has won many awards over—the only thing being that it is detrimental to health.

Pharma companies work towards widening the boundaries of treatable illness in order to expand markets for those who sell and deliver treatments. The concept actively involves sponsoring the definition of disease and promoting them to physicians and consumers. People are made to believe that for every symptom, there is a possibility that you need a pill to treat it. This includes symptoms that you might have not even thought about twice or never known about but for advertisements in relation to an under diagnosed condition.

Truly, this sort of marketing has blurred the lines of what drugs and surgery you really need to save your life, and which may end up killing you faster. Drug companies are nearly always trying to sell you something that there are better natural solutions for. They’re not really concerned if you’re sick or well, or whether you get healthy or sicker; they just want you to buy their products. But in far more cases than not, there are more effective and safer options than drugs to help you get well. The only winners in this grand scheme are the ones who profit financially.

On Interaction

Drug companies depend on medicalization of the society by using new media with stories designed to create fears about the condition or disease. The products seem to instantly strike a chord with consumers as they try to determine if they suffer any of the mentioned symptoms.

The advertisements used by prescription drug companies follow a script which begins with introducing symptoms, followed by introduction of the medical condition, followed by a physician recommending the drug and then the risk factors involved in taking the drug. The imagery used in the advertisements generally depict compelling lifestyle portraits of people who lead happy lives, of course thanks to prescription drugs.