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Recession? What Recession?
Dubious Radio Awards
by MARTHA ROSENBERG

You would never know there’s a recession going on by listening to commercial radio in 2012. Car dealership ads were exceeded only by home remodeling and bank ads. In fact, if unemployment is really going down, it’s probably all the contactors trying to “repipe” and “weatherproof” our homes. Nor were “sexual performance” product ads as prevalent as in 2011–evidently all the men are out buying cars.

The Discover Card became a new entrant in the funny ad category in 2012 even as Netflix suspended its hilarious mock quiz show ads (in which contestants anticipate the hosts’ questions–”If you multiply…?”/”The square root of 36!”/ “Correct!”) Geico’s funny ads have similarly vanished, replaced by an unfunny, blathering Englishman who never goes away.

There were some new ads urging people to adopt shelter dogs and cats in the public service announcement (PSA) category in 2012–both clever and effective. But station managers continue to run wolves-in-sheep-clothing ads from Big Pharma pretending to address the public good and really selling pills. 

Here are some early dubious radio awards for 2012.

More-Than-You’d-Ever-Want-To-Know-About Cancer Award:

Proton Therapy at ProCure Centers 

Are so many people getting cancer, the topic is now fit for radio ads? Or is treating it just so lucrative that ads can ignore the 90 percent plus of people not affected and not interested in the ads? Either way, ProCure ads for “prostate, brain and lung cancer” seem to be everywhere. Do we really want to know that men can avoid “erectile dysfunction” and “incontinence” if they treat their prostate cancer with proton therapy at a ProCure Center? Wouldn’t men rather hear this from their doctor–and we prefer that they do so?

Most-Sleazy-Disease-Mongering-Ad-Disguised-as-a-PSA Award:

Depression Is Real 

It’s a disease that “threatens the lives” of countless Americans, say the ads. It kills like cancer and is as physiologically-based as diabetes. It is “depression” and it makes billions of dollars a year for Pharma–especially when people with real job, family and money woes are made to believe they have it. Even though the Depression Is Real ads are partially funded by the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), which was investigated by Congress for being a Pharma front group, they were afforded free PSA status on radio station in 2012.

Most-Sleazy-Disease-Mongering-Ad-Disguised-as-a-PSA Honorable Mention

Drive 4 COPD 

The best way to sell a disease (and the drugs designed to go with it) is spreading fear–especially the fear that the disease is a “silent killer.” So it is no wonder the “Drive 4 COPD” campaign proclaims that “Millions of Americans don’t know they may have COPD”–chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.  If you ever smoked cigarettes and are over 35 you may be harboring COPD without knowing it, warn the radio ads–which then turn around and say there is a way to treat the “symptoms” you were just told you probably don’t have. Though the campaign’s founding partner is Boehringer Ingelheim who makes a leading COPD drug, “Drive 4 COPD” ads are termed PSAs. Are you listening  station managers?

Most-Preachy-PSA-Not-From-Pharma Award

People Struggling With Hunger 

“Six: I’m the parking attendant. I park your car every day.” So begins a PSA ad that lists all the people you come into contact with every day who are silently suffering from lack of food. “I’m the gas station attendant. I pump your gas,” is another person on the list as are neighbors, parents you see at PTA meetings and families of kids your kid plays with. The ads are so eager to portray listeners as heartless rich people enjoying the services of downtrodden people, they overlook the fact that most people park their own cars these days and pump their own gas. Also, anyone who’s had a low income knows a bigger problem than the cost of food is the cost of housing, healthcare and transportation.

Buy-A-Car-Or-I’ll-Break-Your-Knee-Caps-Persuasion Award:

New and Used Car Ads, Assorted 

Why do car dealerships insist on having their owners read the ads? Even though they sound like lower echelon mobsters who will fit you for cement shoes if you don’t buy a car?  Even though for what they are spending on the ad campaign, a “real” announcer would cost peanuts? Why are new cars advertised at all with the price of gas escalating and half the world out of a job? And, even if someone is financially able to swing the car payments, gas, insurance, parking and repairs, who will remember the sales message after the 20 seconds of sped-up, rapid-fire disclosures at the end? (“Prices only good through”… pant pant…”must have credit score above”…. pant pant…”after three months payments increase to”…pant pant…”see dealerships for details”…..)

Do-You-Want-To-Be-A-Teller-or-Tell Jokes? Ad Award:

Banks Ads, Assorted 

2012 was the year that Chase, Fifth Third and other financial institutions joined First American bank in the pursuit of standup comedy yuks. Wacky situational humor included golf mishaps, going into the surgical operating room and fast action adventures for listeners’ entertainment. But there are two problems with money-related mirth. First, most people want the people entrusted with their money to be sober and in gray flannel suits not writing one-liners. Secondly, most people want their bankers to be financial conservatives who aren’t spending money on high budget frivolous ad campaigns which could  show up as “service charges” in a monthly statement.

Martha Rosenberg’s is an investigative health reporter. She is the author of  Born With A Junk Food Deficiency: How Flaks, Quacks and Hacks Pimp The Public Health (Prometheus).