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Lies, Damn Lies, and Swine Flu Marketing Claims

Gienna Shaw, for HealthLeaders Media, November 11, 2009

It's hard not to notice the number of products making claims that they can help ward off the flu. A spot for an over-the-counter pain medication, for example, starts with a fraught mother wringing her hands and telling the camera she's so worried about her family catching the flu this year. The voiceover goes on to explain that the product can relive the aches and pains associated with flu symptoms. Fine—but what does that have to do with the woman's fears that her kids will catch the virus in the first place?

There's also been an uptick in the number of ads for anti-bacterial cleaning products that used to make allusions to icky germs (such as one memorable ad that showed a woman blithely cleaning her kitchen with a raw hunk of chicken). Now they're all focused on the H1N1 virus. Clorox, for example, has an admittedly clever spot in heavy rotation that shows friends passing around a bottle of bleach that implores viewers to share with their friends tips on how to avoid the flu. And guess what? This week Clorox announced a 23% rise in first-quarter earnings, according to a New York Times article.

Meanwhile, the claims these household brands are making are nothing compared to the Web sites hawking products that claim to prevent H1N1—from ionic silver to vitamins and other supplements. The FDA is cracking down on the snake-oil supplements that illegally claim to prevent or treat H1N1 without FDA approval—it's identified about 140 sites making such claims. Further, it's warning consumers about fake Tamiflu that's hit the market.

OK, already, you get it. So what should you do about it?

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