The Disconcerting Advertisement of Concerta
I ran across the advertisement you see below while flipping through the November 2008 issue of Better Homes and Gardens. Who knew that you could get a new, improved child to go along with the redesigned living room?
The first thing that bothered me was the purpose of this medication, as described in the advertisement. The ad changes the wandering, forgetful mind of a child into the singular mind of an achiever. However, it’s perfectly normal for a child of the age pictured in the ad to leave a backpack on the bus, or to fight with a sibling, to forget homework, and to provoke calls home from a teacher. That’s all part of growing up.
I know that there are small numbers of children who have real, serious ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) symptoms. The symptoms described in this advertisement don’t rise to that level at all, but the advertisement suggests to parents that they medicate away this ordinary level of mind-wandering, so that their children can make their teachers happy, and stay focused on their assignments.
What will that child miss as a result of living life on a straight line instead of wandering path? Some of the most important thinking in life is not a simple matter of receiving an assignment, and following directions to its completion. Our minds wander for an important reason – to enable us to acquire information that others have not yet gathered, and to allow us to bring previously known facts together in unexpected ways.
We started Irregular Times because we’re dedicated to the ideal of irregular thought. The people who contribute to this site find it difficult to remain within the strictly defined rules and roles for living commonly held as ideal. We see the value in a disorderly life, but that doesn’t mean we have any disorder.
Turning the page, the advertisement for Concerta grew even more disconcerting. There, on two full magazine pages, were the legally-required notices about the side effects of Concerta. Among possible side effects such as death from heart failure are those you see here,to the right.
This medication, which is supposed to help your kid get on the straight and narrow path to life, can actually provoke them into depression or swings between mania and depression, hostility, and paranoid hallucinations. Those kinds of psychological side effects are not going to help any child fit in and follow along.
A more honest advertisement for Concerta might look like this:
The underlying idea of Concerta seems to be that it can bring the children who take it into concert with the expectations of society so that they can work in concert with their peers and in concert with the desires of the adults in authority over them. I know that life can be difficult for nonconformists, but I wouldn’t attempt to enforce conformity upon my children if its not what they wanted for themselves.
Children all struggle. They shouldn’t have to struggle with life-threatening, sanity-imperiling side effects of medication. They shouldn’t be exposed to such risks unless other dangers are even greater. Losing a backpack on the bus, forgetting homework, and getting a phone call from a teacher don’t even come close to this threshhold.
Looking at this advertisement in detail provoked me to question the worth of a medication like Concerta. So, why would the company who made concerta bother spending money on such an advertisement? Wouldn’t that be counterproductive for sales?
Keep in mind that my reaction came after a sustained examination and consideration of the print ad. What the maker of Concerta is counting on is that most readers of Better Homes and Gardens won’t examine and consider the advertisement in detail. Most readers will look quickly at an advertisement like this, pick up the top two or three ideas that they can perceive most quickly, and then move on.
In other words, the makers of Concerta are counting on parents to have a short attention span and a problem focusing on details.
The image seen above tells a human story that’s emotionally compelling to parents who feel out of control of their children. It’s communicated visually as well as linguistically, with graphic elements that steer a lazy reader’s eye from one thought to another.
The two pages of information about side effects don’t have those same cognitive aids. They’re in simple black and white text, with little embellishment to catch the eye and n visual cues to assist a reader in understanding the risks of taking Concerta.
Most people aren’t rational, logical dedicated interpreters of media. Pharmaceutical advertisers know that, and so can be confident that, as long they give give separate and unequal contexts to the benefits and risks of the medications they sell, their medications will keep on selling.