"a fish, a barrel, and a smoking gun"
for 8 July 1997. Updated every WEEKDAY.

Prozac: It's Not Just for Breakfast Anymore


[This kid is obviously medicated.  He is too damn happy.  Better living through chemistry, indeed.]

Eli Lilly's new campaign for its

popular mood cocktail begs a

couple of obvious questions.

"Depression hurts," the ads

read, in case you've missed

their appearance in any one of

20 national magazines, from

Newsweek to Parade. "Prozac can

help." Sure - so would a general

anesthetic. So would a

semiautomatic. Why Prozac? And,

slightly less obviously, why are

you talking to me?


Pharmacological advertising aimed

at customers (rather than

doctors) is nothing new, of

course. From patent medicines to

Pink Floyd, the marketplace has

had its share of would-be

shamans whose carnie barker call

appeals to our desire to

eliminate or just escape the

day-to-day grind. Advertising

for prescription medicine has,

if anything, been downright

pokey in getting with the

program, and only in the past

few years have prescription-only

drugs become a part of the same

landscape as Dewar's, Camels, and

crack. Last year saw

prescription-drug ad spending

increase 90 percent, but one

wonders if the push isn't a day

late and several million dollars



[This is a cloud.  CLouds are my friend.  When it gets dark and gloomy I am at my happiest.  I wear all black.  I listen to goth music.  I think about sad things.  I decorate my room with dead roses.  Hey can I borrow your eyeliner?]

Drug adverting sucks, and

uniformly so. Miles of fine

print (a nuisance required by

the Feds), open fields, and

eerily vibrant models whose

Sears-catalog countenance and

strange, silent exuberance calls

to mind Amway escapees - not

only are they indistinguishable

from each other, but also from

equally dopamistic broadsides

for things like banking services

and techonology. The Scherling

Corporation at least recognized

that Claritin's television ads

were bizarrely opaque enough to

require an explanation ("We

apologize if our TV commercials

don't seem 'clear.'"), but most

companies just muddle along

underneath a banner so blank

they're advertising not a

product, or even a lifestyle,

just, you know, life.


[Don't tell him, but this kids got abunch of white stuff on his lip.]

It's not entirely their fault:

They're burdened by information

requirements that make the

tobacco settlement look like a

bumpersticker, and by the not

inconsequential fact that no

matter how or what the customers

may clamor for, it's the doctor

who doles their drugs out. At

best, prescription drug ads

might convince you of the

importance of treating whatever

heretofore unrecognized tragedy

they address (though it would be

tough to find someone who wasn't

already aware of their hair

loss, indigestion, or

depression). And when there are

several similar drugs treating

the same symptoms, ads like

Prozac's or Effexor's (whose "I

got my marriage back" tagline

seems a particularly

double-edged sword) come across

as the pharmocological

equivalent of industry council

campaigns (which these days are

half-again as clever when

hijacked for medicinal purposes:

Imagine the success "It's the

Prozac" might have). But whether

it's mental health or milk,

these are promotions of

something we don't think of as

branded, something we buy

because of a generalized impulse

to consume.


[This is the cover of the most recent Wired magazine.  We love Wired magazine.  We really do.]

It is, however, brand

differentiation in the

anti-depressant field that's got

Eli Lilly down in the dumps. The

stunning sales of the

best-selling mental-health drug

in history have started to

descend from the manic boom that

grew sales 39 percent in 1994

and 20 percent in 1996. While

Prozac is still expected to make

the company US$2.6 billion

worldwide in 1997, that's only a

woeful 10 percent increase from

last year. And it's not that

there are fewer depressed

people than before.


There's no question that Prozac

is a strong brand, as the

testimony of a thousand "[blank]

on Prozac" jokes will attest. It

may, in fact, be too strong; as

the Kleenex of anti-depressants,

it got Xeroxed. Prozac's

troubles stem from increased

competition, and the presence of

a number of chemically and

effectively similar drugs -

Zoloft, Effexor, Paxil, and

Xanax - that are phonetically

distinguishable by only the

subtly different ways each

soporific sobriquet calls to

mind the sound of an elderly

person's light, noisy sleep.

Sure, there's still plenty of

misery in the world - the

question is whether or not Eli

Lilly will enjoy the company.


Anecdotal postings to the Prozac

mailing list show the medicated

mailers to be, not surprisingly,

fairly happy customers.

Discussion of side effects is

largely limited to suggestions

for substitutions and dosage

changes. Indeed, it's rare to

find a subculture so gleefully

committed to better living

through chemicals that isn't

also bumming for spare change.

These individuals are

determinedly drugged, even

contentedly so. But they're not

somnambulant; they trade case

histories like coupons and offer

savvy commentary on the latest

emotional lubricants to stock

pharmacy shelves. Speaking of

Prozac competitor Paxil, one

perky poster offered the kind of

compliment which must have sent

some Lilly-white exec running to

his medicine cabinet: "I would

do commercials for this drug."


[This is parker.  SHe wrote Poyms.  She was a bit unbalanced.]

As competion seeks to divide and

conquer, it's no wonder Lilly is

simply ready to diversify,

expanding the range of symptoms

that Prozac may be used to

treat. With Prozac already being

used to treat such obviously

culturally subjective

"disorders" as obesity, PMS,

and, according to a recent

article in The Wall Street

Journal, "stage fright," we

wonder how long it'll be before

Prozac gets prescribed for other

socially inconvenient behaviors,

which is what's really

depressing: When they start

treating us for cynicism, we'll

have no reason to drink.


To be sure, the reluctance of

Americans to let go of a proud

tradition of self-medication

makes Prozac's entrance into the

consumer marketplace seem like

even less of a smart move.

Really, do slow-acting

anti-depressants (it can take up

to two weeks for

serotonin-uptake inhibitors to

have an effect) have a chance

against the near-instant

gratifications to be found at

the bottom of a glass, the end

of a bong, or the top of a

mirror? Hell, even in its

weakened, wheezing condition,

Big Tobacco has history and oral

gratification, not to mention

physical and psychological

addiction, on its side. And

until they put Prozac in a pipe

or a pint glass, it's just not

going to feel as good going



[Dude, do you have twenty bucks so I can get a hit?]

In the costumer's mind, Prozac

isn't just competing with

Effexor, but also with an array

of drugs that are just as

familiar, more effective, and a

whole lot cheaper. As one

contributor to the Prozac

mailing list figured it, "ounce

for ounce, Prozac is worth the

same amount as black tar heroin.

The end-market value of a

kilogram of Prozac is worth over

$100,000 USA ... it's more

expensive than cocaine." And, we

hasten to add, not nearly as


courtesy of Ann O'Tate

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