The Voice of Big Pharma

A 20% chance of blindness? I like those odds....

You’ve probably seen the magazine ads and television commercials, advertising various medications available to the consumer — they have been on the rise since the FDA relaxed the guidelines for direct-to-consumer advertising of drugs in 2005. In fact, an estimated $700 million dollars was spent in 1997 on promoting drugs to the public — the figure catapulted to $4.2 billion dollars in 2005. We’re all guilty of cringing when the voice-over for a drug commercial casually works in some of most prevalent side-effects for patients who have taken the drug (especially when they cavalierly toss off “death” as a remote but real risk. Or the announcer warning that depression can be a side-effect of taking a well-known anti-depressant.)

While not being quite fortunate enough to land a national pharmaceutical commercial V/o, I have voiced the IVR’s for many large drug store chains, and was particularly intrigued when I was approached by a pharmaceutical marketing firm a few years ago to voice the product monographs to a wide variety of drugs — the monograph is simply that page on the other side of the magazine ad — in excrutiatingly fine print — warning patients of contraindications (existing conditions which might preclude you from taking the drug in the first place), possible drug interactions with medications you’re already on, and, of course, the dreaded *possible* side effects of taking the medication. All that fine print needs to be read in audio format for the sight-impaired for the drug company’s information line, (due dilligence and all that); so there I found myself with the challenge of conquering a great deal of medical terminology (which I love), having to list off other medications which conflict with the drug (no easy task — most of them are derived from industry-significant acronyms and have no grammatical intelligence — ever heard of Premarin? So named from a combination of PREgnant MARe urINe — its chief ingredient. Google it if you don’t believe me!) It can be a rather laborious session to voice these product info projects; I try to bring as much “life” and conversationality into the otherwise somewhat dry copy, and I attempt to sound as matter-of-fact as I can — without underplaying the real risk — of the side-effects (one has stuck in my mind ever since I started voicing them: “Use of (the drug) in laboratory mice resulted in wavy ribs found on necropsy.” Wavy ribs? Cool! Sign me up. At least it’s not as serious as “Golden Retriever Head” or “Hot Dog Hands”, as was mentioned in a mock pharmaceutical commercial a few years back.)

I have also voiced auto-dialers which went directly to the patients in clinical trials of drugs, reminding them to take their meds on a regular basis, giving them hints about diminishing the negative side-effects of the drugs, and suggesting ways to improve their progress in the study — those I definitely approached with as upbeat and encouraging a tone as I could muster. I’ve also voiced telephone surveys which track the progression of patient’s chronic diseases; Diabetic and COPD patients have participated in surveys which I’ve voiced, which have helped researchers chart the effectiveness of treament and the overall compliance of the patients — and therefore helping future patients similarly afflicted with the disorder.

Some monographs have been frightening to read: I did one for a narcotic taken by end-stage cancer patients which sounded exponentially more addictive than Oxycontin; most of what I voiced had to deal not primarily with the drug’s side-effects when taken responsibly (which were considerable); most of the recording was about the dangers of stockpiling it, re-distributing/selling it, and most pivotal: the strong advisory that one should never even entertain the *thought* of it in its ground-up form — it was considered to be multiple times stronger and frequently fatal if taken as a powder.

The pharmaceutical industry has a lot invested in advertising, and making the health consumer more aware of what’s out there assists them in selling more medications — their admonitions for you to “Ask you doctor if (medication) is right for you!” makes you a pharmaceutical rep of the highest order. The least you can do is be as informed as possible — and if I can play a part in that by voicing clear, easy-to-understand spec sheets for the drugs, it will hopefully make people better consumers and better advocates of their own health.

Next week, I’ll blog about the challenges and rewards of working with an international clientele!

Thanks for reading! Feel free to leave a comment….

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