Pondering infomercials and other TV ads

I try to do various things to minimize jetlag, but my body clock is still slightly screwed up whenever I fly over the Atlantic. After all it is a 6 hour time difference. So I've found myself waking up faithfully at 4:30am every day since I got to New York. This isn't all bad...it means I can deal with all the emails waiting and so on while it's still quiet, though it does mean that by 10pm I'm already nodding off.

Since I do wake up so early, I have sort of inadvertently been watching, or at least listening to while I do other things, quite a few infomercials. When I'm in the U.S. I mostly watch the Food Network, HGTV, Fine Living and other such "lifestyle" programming that I can't get via iTunes Music Store, torrents or other legal or nefarious means. I can see German, some French and English/BBC programs of that genre on regular TV...but it's not the same. Anyway, since I go to sleep tuned into one of those channels, when I wake up I see the infomercials on the same channels.

I never used to watch infomercials much before, but they are sort of fascinating. One puzzling thing to me is why every other infomercial is for some sort of weight loss scheme or exercise, especially on the Food Network. Do they expect people who have been watching food programs during the evening to wake up feeling bad about food and in the frame of mind to go on some diet that promises they will lose 30 lbs in 6 weeks, or purchase an exercise DVD? Or maybe, 50% of all infomercials are for weight loss.

I do like the kitchenware infomercials. The format seems to be perfect for explaining complicated gadgets like the KitchenAid mixers. I did see one of those, and it was really quite informative. (I have been procrastinating for years about whether or not to get a KitchenAid, and have yet to make the jump.) The same with the FoodSaver. Even that odd hinged sandwich maker/omelette maker gadget thingie looks fun. But right after they have a session of yummy looking snacks made with that, along comes a session for NutriSystem or something, and the guilt sets in again.

There is another thing that I seem to notice more this time - maybe because I'm watching more TV. The number of TV ads for prescription drugs is astonishing. They aren't allowed in Europe I think - or I've never seen them. Do people actually see the commercials, note down the name of the drug, and 'talk to their doctor' to request it? If I were a doctor, I think I'd hate that. And who knew there were so many illnesses? I keep pondering whether I have 'restless leg syndrome' or something.

The drug culture (for illness, not for recreation) in Europe, or at least in Switzerland, is quite different. You still go to a drugstore to ask the pharmacist for advice on what medication to get for minor ailments. (Our local pharmacist, and our doctor, both favor homeopathic remedies, like nettle leaf extract as calcium supplements or citronella to prevent mosquitoes biting.) During my first year or so in Switzerland, this necessity of getting advice for self medication was quite annoying - I thought I knew what to get for myself without being told by someone else. When you get used to a certain way of doing things though, the other way gets harder. Wandering around the aisles of Walgreens or Duane Reade here can get quite bewildering. It's also a bit worrying that commercials may be the primary way that many people get medication information.

Filed under:  essays tv advertising

If you enjoyed this article, please consider becoming my patron via Patreon. ^_^

Become a Patron!


My father is a physician, and he hates the drug commercials. He says only doctors and people who know about a drug's correct usage and side effects should recommend a drug to a patient. Instead, patients start requesting drugs that they might not even need based on watching those stupid commercials.

The European drug culture (heh) annoyed me at first when I lived in London for a while. I got really sick, and in the middle of the night, I tried to find some Sudafed-like substance at the local Sainsbury's, but only homeopathic stuff was to be found; only the real deal could be bought at a pharmacy, which of course was closed at that time. Still, it gave me a great appreciation for Olbas oil!

The weight loss ads and the drug ads sort of go together. They're both things where a person really ought to be working with their doctor. The laws in the US used to forbid drug advertisements for prescription medications, but they changed sometime in the 1990s so advertisements were allowed. I don't think it's a good thing. Many of the advertised drugs are for "problems" that are quite ordinary and not dangerous. The remainder are for problems that are quite dangerous, and usually the advertised drug is quite dangerous as well. Anything that needs a liver function test shouldn't be on TV.

I remember being appalled years ago by the deluge of drug ads on TV, in magazines, on the streets...everywhere pretty much. It also told me how unhealthy the country was. :P My favorite part in a TV commercial is when the announcer rattles off the 100 side effects that almost sound worse than whatever the drug is trying to heal.

I just stumbled onto your blog by accident. Definetly a good read! I'll be visiting often!

One big change here in the U.S. is that you can get some homeopathic remedies in regular pharmacies now.

For a long time, drug companies could not advertise their products.

Personally, I am most appalled by the commercial for a prescription drug or a prescription eye drop (I don't remember which) that helps with the dry eyes you experience after using so many prescriptions. "You've taken so many that you're screwed up, so have another to help." Never a thought of try to fix the problem, not the symptoms.