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Who's Right: Advertisers or Doctors?
By: Dwayne W. Waite Jr.
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In case you haven't heard, the American Medical Association (the less-fun AMA) called for a TV ban on drug advertising. Yes, the group said that direct-to-consumer messaging is attributing to the rising costs in medicine, and is a main cause for expensive and unnecessary procedures.

Rightfully so, the Association of National Advertisers (ANA) didn't appreciate the proclamation. The ANA countered, saying that the advertising the companies do not only provides the right information, since the communication of such information is so heavily regulated and scrutinized, but withdrawing TV advertising could leave the consumer left to their own devices…literally. The ANA said that leaving the consumer without direct information would push the consumer to look up information online, where a lot of the information could be misleading, or just plain incorrect.

Is there a right side? Or, perhaps, a more salient argument?

If we were confined to those sides, it would be a very hard decision. Since this is Beyond Madison Avenue, we are inclined to ask a question that tends a little more introspectively.

What is the main goal of advertising?

The situation at hand is a mixture of ethics and advertising principles. If we can wrestle with our definition of advertising, then perhaps we (or you) can pick a side.

If we believe that, above all else, the goal for advertising is to inform, persuade, and remind consumers about the goods and services that we provide, then the argument that the AMA proposes is irrelevant. Without peering into our ethical or moral lens, we care not if medical costs are rising or if the advertising is a contributor to unnecessary procedures or medication. We let the consumer know what's available, and then our job is done. Applying pure economic factors to the situation removes the emotional barriers some people would run into.

On the other hand, if we believe that advertising does the above in addition to improving the quality of life for the consumers or targeted audience that we serve, perhaps, then, the AMA has a point. If the ANA or 4A's or whoever mandates a study on advertising's correlation with medical costs, and the AMA is proven to be right, then the ANA might be moved to change its position.

As always, it is a matter of perspective.

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About the Author
Dwayne W. Waite Jr. is partner and principal at JDW: The Charlotte Agency, a marketing and advertising shop in Charlotte, NC. He enjoys consumer behavior, economics, and football.
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