Friday, September 11, 2009

Warning: Ads may cause anxiety, other symptoms

12:00 AM CDT on Friday, September 11, 2009


Confession: I've come to a point in my life when I can no longer understand TV commercials.

There's one in particular, for the uniquely named medication Yaz, that messes with my head. A woman with a hypnotic stare and voice – who's attending some party on a rooftop – tells us that we may have seen some other Yaz commercials "that were not clear."

She attempts to rectify this. She fails.

"Yaz contains DRSP, a different kind of hormone," the woman says in her rapid-fire way, "that for some reason may increase potassium too much – so you shouldn't take Yaz if you have kidney, liver or adrenal disease because this could cause serious heart and health problems."

OK, a lot to take in. But the sentence in most need of a diagram is this one:

"Serious risks include blood clots, stroke and heart attack, so women – especially over 35? – shouldn't smoke, because it increases those risks."

Wait. Slow down, lady! I suspect that adding smoking into the equation is designed to throw off us simpletons. And it succeeds. I rewound this commercial three times just to figure out all the words she was throwing at me.

But hey, drug companies have to be thorough these days. It's the law. Which is why the commercial for sleep aid Ambien includes this nonchalant warning: "Sleepwalking, eating and driving while not fully awake with amnesia for the event have been reported."

"Driving while not fully awake," stated another way, is "driving while sleeping." The voiceover guy quickly moved on to other side effects, but I couldn't get past the horror of potential sleepdriving.

One more. Brooke Shields is now promoting Latisse, an eyelash-growing potion. But the voiceover lady warns that it "may cause eyelid skin darkening, which may be reversible. And there is potential for increased brown iris pigmentation, which is likely permanent."

Again, I'm stopped in my TV-watching tracks. Call me old-fashioned, but I'm leery of products that permanently alter the ol' eyeballs. Besides, they do have that thing called mascara.

There was a time, of course, when ads were much less frightening. Life was simpler, so product hawking was simpler. Information was provided on a need-to-know basis.

Take the following ad in my 1963 Family Circle.

"Donna's DOWN," the copy reads, showing a down-looking Donna. "Periodic Pain." But Midol's unnamed ingredients relieve headache, backache and "CALM JUMPY NERVES." (No need to shout. I'm already jumpy.) It also contains "a special, mood-brightening medication that CHASES 'BLUES.' "

Soon, voila! "Donna's UP with MIDOL."

Another variation of the ad features Betty. "Betty's BLUE. Periodic pain." But later, "Betty's GAY with MIDOL."

Hey, don't look at me. That's what the ad says.

Other ads were just downright lies. My 1939 Good Housekeeping includes the headline, "New Type Tomato Juice Thrills Nation." The folks at Welch's urged all to buy it "from your dealer today." (Wow, it must be good if you have to score it off the streets.)

But olden-times TV commercials were even more basic than print ads. "Winston tastes good like a cigarette should," says one that's now posted on the Internet. That's it. No mention of any, you know, side effects. From SMOKING.

Another one went to this extreme: "Surveys show more doctors smoke Camels than any other cigarette. Smoke Camels – the cigarette so many doctors enjoy."

Times, they have a'changed. We've gone from "just don't tell people anything" to "OK, fine, tell them too much. That way they won't know what to think."

Sure, knowledge is power. But if I could spend one day in a place where tomato juice could thrill a nation, I'd take it.