December 25, 2005


A look behind the drug-ad parody Panexa.

Carl Bialik

Stay Free!, a magazine "that explores the politics and perversions of mass media and American culture," caught the attention of Gelf (via Boing Boing) with its parody of drug ads: a website for Panexa. Made by the pharmaceutical company MERD, Panexa solemnly avers, in its ad copy, "Your lifestyle is one of the biggest factors in choosing how to live. Why trust it to anything less? Panexa is proven to provide more medication to those who take it than any other comparable solution. Panexa is the right choice, the safe choice. The only choice." The drug, meant for treating such conditions as coronary heart condition (CHC) or two separate feet (2SF), debuted in a print ad in Stay Free! in 1999. The magazine's editor, Carrie McLaren, responded to Gelf's emailed questions, telling us what inspired the ad's trippy photo and why advertising isn't the biggest problem with pharmaceuticals.

Carrie McLaren
Carrie McLaren
Gelf Magazine: Who wrote the text? Was there a specific drug website that you used as a template?

Carrie McLaren: Jason Torchinsky, who also wrote the fake legal notice that pops up on our Illegal Art Exhibit website. He didn't use a specific ad—the idea was to parody all of the ads simultaneously.

GM: That lead—"the safe choice. the only choice."—sounds a bit like a campaign slogan as well as a drug ad. Intentional?

CM: The intention was to be as vague and meaningless as possible. The same slogan could just as well apply to home insurance or antibacterial soap.

GM: What's the story behind that wacky photo? Who are those people? And why is he offering her a hot dog?

CM: As you may know, pharmaceutical marketers don't have to discuss side effects in commercials if they don't specify what a drug treats. So they've developed a number of conventions for communicating various ailments without using words—grassy fields and sky signify allergies; a middle-aged couple in a romantic or setting means erectile disfunction; a group of buff guys is an HIV drug; greasy foods, acid reflex, etc.

With the photo we shot for the Stay Free! ad (the same image on the website), we tried to combine as many clichés as possible in one shot. The hat is supposed to suggest hair loss. We wanted the man to look like a Viagra guy. The hotdog is both stupidly suggestive (did you ever see that commercial for an ED that has a man throwing a football to a woman, who's holding a tire?) and a cause of acid reflux.

Most people probably didn't get this, but that's okay. I wanted the photo to look dreamily lush but slightly fucked-up and I think we at least accomplished that.

GM: Have you sold much Panexa merchandise?

CM: We sell a few things every day. We make $2 per purchase, so we've made about $350 off of Panexa (several hundreds of dollars less than the cost of printing the original ad).

GM: Where can I get some Panexa for my coronary heart condition?

CM: Panexa is currently unavailable, but I know where you could get some beta blockers CHEAP...

GM: In all seriousness, do you think DTC drug ads should be banned? Or should we keep them around to laugh at them?

CM: Banning wouldn't solve the problem. There are so many things wrong with the drug industry, only a serious overhaul of the system is going to do much help. We've got drug companies running the show—writing journal articles, hiding negative data, and bribing doctors. One of the most heavily advertised drugs, Vioxx, is estimated to have killed up to tens of thousands of people. (Tens of thousands!) Until the FDA wakes up and takes action to limit the cartel, it'll only get worse.

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- Media
- posted on Mar 09, 07

I dislike the fact that milllions of people think that they can cure everything with a pill.

- Media
- posted on May 21, 13
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