Take Dr. Robert Jarvik, one of the pioneers in the development of the artificial heart. You might have seen him on TV throughout the past couple of years touting the healing power of Lipitor, a cholesterol drug made by Pfizer. The pharmaceutical giant has paid the doctor $1.3 million to shill for the drug. In one of the ads, Jarvik is depicted as an athletic rower, skimming in his boat across a mountain lake. The implication is that he is full of vigor, thanks to the cholesterol-clearing power of Lipitor.
Jarvik's endorsement of the drug oozes credibility -- until you realize a few facts not mentioned in this $250 million ad campaign. One, that's not Jarvik rowing so robustly across the lake. It's a stunt man posing as the doctor, who apparently doesn't row at all. Second, while Jarvik touts the cardiovascular benefits of Lipitor, he is not a cardiologist. And, even though he has a medical degree, he is not licensed to practice medicine. What he is, is a marketable medical name, having been, as the ad put it, the "Inventor of the artificial heart."
Oh, that's the third hickey on Jarvik's testimonial. He is not "the inventor." A large team at the University of Utah worked on the heart device back in the early 1980s, and they credit two others as deserving of the "inventor" honor -- not Jarvik.
A top Pfizer executive says the corporation regrets that the ad led to any "misimpressions." But that's exactly what this direct-to-consumer ad campaign was designed to do. Drug companies spend some $5 billion a year on ads to "misimpress" us -- and it's time to rein in their deceit.