10 Totally Ridiculous Pharmaceutical Ads

Pharmaceutical ads had gotten so out of control recently, Congress got involved. But even before pharmaceutical companies were known as the big bad corporate meanie in our society, drug ads have been pretty ridiculous. Here are some of the best, pulled from vintage magazines to current commercials.

  1. Latisse: If you’ve bemoaned your thinning or sparse eyelashes, you might actually have a disease! Or that’s what the marketers at Latisse probably want you to think. Their product is supposed to fill in eyelashes, a condition they call hypotrichosis. In fact, hypotrichosis is general hair loss or abnormal hair growth, and isn’t limited to eyelash scarcity. The Latisse commercial goes on to list possible side effects: “may cause eyelid skin darkening, which may be reversible, and there is potential for increased brown iris pigmentation, which is likely permanent.” Scary.
  2. Requip: Requip is a medication engineered to ease Restless Leg Syndrome, a condition that’s portrayed as a bogey monster in this commercial, complete with spooky cartoon graphics spelling out “The Urge to Move” and listing symptoms like having “creepy-crawly” sensations as signs of RLS.
  3. Phenobarbital: This vintage magazine advertisement for Phenobarbital Sodium touts the benefits of the barbiturate medication, which PubMed Health has listed as a drug to control epilepsy. The ad, though, maintains that phenobarbital is the perfect solution “when crisis demands quick-acting hypnotics,” and features an illustrated woman who appears to have fainted in bed, with a concerned, suit-wearing gentleman at her side. And if you look at the background picture, you can see what led the poor woman to bed: she’s in the midst of a shocked grimace, no doubt experiencing some sort of crisis that she needs to forget until she’s calmed down.
  4. Pantopon: In another vintage advertisement, Pantopon Roche Injectable Opium — “from the juice of the poppy” — is marketed as being able “to produce a synergistic totality of therapeutic action that is unsurpassed in hypnotic and analgesic qualities.” Because, um, it’s opium.
  5. Pristiq: This current TV commercial for Pristiq is famous for its creepy wind-up doll, the depressed woman’s little model for how she’s feeling. After taking Pristiq, the doll turns into a smiling, marching little side-kick, but she’s still as eerie as her depressed, bent-over self.
  6. Yaz’s clear-up: Yaz blasted the airwaves with numerous birth control commercials a few years ago, claiming that in addition to preventing pregnancy, it was the only birth control to also relieve symptoms of PMDD, a more intensely emotional version of PMS. Yaz marketers also told viewers that their drug was more effective at preventing acne, which made the FDA require Yaz to release more commercials clearing up their claims. This ridiculous recall of a commercial confuses audiences about potassium levels, long-term patient care, actual acne fighting powers, and the exact same side effects that are symptoms of PMDD and PMS.
  7. Cymbalta: Anyone who watches TV recognizes the Cymbalta commercials — the ones that reach out to us by explaining that all of our puppies and pets suffer when we have depression. But they’re notable in another way, too. Jason Brandt wrote for PixelsandPills.com, that one commercial “featured a piece of music so beautiful that many people searched for it, wondering if it was an arrangement of a Schumann piece, or a clip from a Hollywood score.” There are actual YouTube videos of people teaching themselves to play the piece. Well, done, Cymbalta, but maybe a little too heavy, even for a spot about depression?
  8. Ayer’s Cherry Pectoral: Babies in nightgowns and knee socks caress a magical bottle of Ayer’s Cherry Pectoral in this Garden of Eden-like vintage advertisement. Used for colds and coughs, it was typically made with morphine or heroin, perfect ingredients for infants and tots.
  9. Detrol: This commercial first aired several years ago and featured frustrated people jumping up to go to the bathroom in extremely awkward situations, like jury duty. “Gotta go, gotta go, gotta go right now!” was certainly a catchy jingle, but it was such an embarrassingly ridiculous commercial that it inspired hilarious spoofs.
  10. Gas-X: During an interview, the guy who played Miranda’s ex-boyfriend Skipper on Season 1 of Sex and the City hears nothing but fart language instead of a real conversation because he’s so gassy. “I see you’re flatulent in three languages” is only beaten by the line, “Excuse me, your son Rip is on line toot.” Clearly written for the inner third grader in all of us.