AHF Advocacy Spurs GSK to Suspend Fear-Mongering AIDS Drug Ads
AHF Runs Pieces Headlined “GSK: Worst Drug Ads Ever.” The Issue Prompts Articles in the Wall Street Journal and Philadelphia Inquirer; Subsequently, Company Pulls Ads
AHF and Others Believe Controversial Ad Campaign Was an Attempt by GSK to Maintain Market Share, to Detriment of Patient Health
LOS ANGELES--(BUSINESS WIRE)--AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF), the largest non-profit AIDS healthcare provider in the United States and operator of free AIDS treatment clinics in the US, Africa, Latin America/Caribbean and Asia, acknowledged British multi-national drug giant GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) for wisely suspending publication of its recent series of direct-to-consumer print advertisements that, under the guise of patient education, instead capitalized on patients’ fears of HIV treatment. The controversial GSK ad campaign had been running since spring of this year in magazines such as POZ, a monthly national magazine targeting people living with HIV/AIDS. Over the summer, AHF began an aggressive advocacy effort criticizing GSK for the irresponsible marketing tactics it used in this campaign, which AHF and others saw as an attempt by GSK to maintain its dwindling market share for AIDS drugs, disregarding the negative impact such advertising has on patients’ health.
“A development fueling the sharp-elbows advertising: The market for HIV medicines has grown crowded, and companies want to protect their market share.”
AHF’s advocacy efforts, which included a “GSK: Worst Drug Ads Ever” print ad campaign directly criticizing the GSK ads, initially publicized the issue. AHF’s campaign begin last in late August and featured print ads in publications including the Washington Blade, the Village Voice and Los Angeles’ Frontiers. To learn more and view a copy of AHF’s “GSK: Worst Drug Ads Ever” ad: http://www.aidshealth.org/news/press-releases/ahf-blasts-gsk-on- advertisement.html. This lead to comprehensive and unflattering news articles in the Wall Street Journal (August 25, 2008) and the Philadelphia Inquirer (August 29, 2008)—both of which cited AHF’s criticisms of GSK. The GSK ads are not running in the current October edition of POZ.
The two print advertisements in question did appear in the June and July/August issues of POZ, a national monthly magazine targeting those living with HIV/AIDS. Both ads utilized the same scare tactic to dissuade patients from changing their HIV medications, presumably from GSK’s drugs to a competitor’s. One ad featured a scenic photo of the sun setting over the ocean with what appear to be sailboats floating calmly in the background. The text, invitingly, reads: “First Impressions…”. Upon turning the page, an ominous image greets you. A close-up on the triangular boat sails reveals them to be the fins of sharks lurking just beneath the water’s surface. The text on this page: “…Can Be Deceiving. Avoid hidden dangers from changing your HIV medicines.” And, opposite the shark fin image: “If you are thinking about switching your HIV medicine, make sure you know what you’re getting into.” Another similar ad, with the same text, features a scenic view of a placid lake, sand dunes, palm trees and serene fields, that—on the next page—are revealed to be hiding a fierce, menacing-looking lion.
“AIDS drug advertising has a history of distorting the reality of AIDS treatment in order to generate sales. However, the GSK ads sank to a new low, and we are grateful that they have had the good sense to suspend this marketing campaign,” said AHF President Michael Weinstein. “These ads resort to blatantly exploiting patient fears in order to sell a product, while remaining unconcerned about the potential harm caused to patients who might be scared off treatment altogether, or going on a better course of treatment because of the threats implied by these ads. Frankly, we were disappointed that Poz magazine—a publication targeted to an HIV-positive population—would even run such inflammatory ads. This kind of underhanded negative advertising creates fear of HIV treatment in general, which could dissuade people from seeking treatment at all.”
“Unfortunately, the ads only served to amplify fears and doubts patients may already have about antiretroviral therapy, making it harder for doctors to treat them,” said Homayoon Khanlou, M.D., AHF’s Chief of Medicine/U.S. “It is important for patients and their providers to work together to make treatment decisions independent of drug industry advertising that might compromise the doctor/patient relationship and potentially the health of the patient.”
According to the August 25th Wall Street Journal news article on the ad controversy: “The ads are part of a larger trend of drug companies taking aim at rival HIV drugs, hinting at side effects and other drawbacks, experts say.” The article also noted that: “A development fueling the sharp-elbows advertising: The market for HIV medicines has grown crowded, and companies want to protect their market share.”
As part of its ongoing advocacy efforts to ensure drug companies act responsibly with their DTC advertising, AHF will continue to challenge GSK and other pharmaceutical companies over questionable advertising and marketing tactics to ensure that such harmful ads are no longer produced. And to ensure such drug advertising will no longer be permitted, AHF has also contacted the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to express concerns regarding this particular GSK campaign and to ask HHS for better government and regulatory oversight of direct-to-consumer drug advertising in general so that all drug ads are in the best interest of patient health.
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AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF) is the nation’s largest non-profit HIV/AIDS healthcare provider. AHF currently provides medical care and/or services to more than 80,000 individuals in 22 countries worldwide in the US, Africa, Latin America/Caribbean and Asia. Additional information is available at www.aidshealth.org.