The Sparkasse Bank in Chemnitz, in eastern Germany, asked customers to vote on images they would most like to see on their MasterCards, and by far the winner was Karl Marx, the German philosopher who predicted the end of capitalism. More than one third of people voting selected Marx’s image. The bank reports that even people in western Germany were calling and asking to open bank accounts to get a MasterCard with Marx’s image on it. Reuters reports that a survey done in 2008 revealed that 52 percent of citizens living in eastern Germany thought the free market economy was “unsuitable” and 43 percent preferred to go back to a socialist system. NPR’s Planet Money, in a report on the Karl Marx MasterCard, asked people to suggest possible slogans to advertise the card. Some of the responses? “Che Guevara t-shirt: $15. Annotated copy of the Communist Manifesto: $10. Being able to demonstrate your ideological confusion every time you make a purchase: Priceless.,” “I don’t always seize the means of production from the bourgeoisie, but when I do, I prefer the Marx MasterCard,” “A Mastercard for the master race,” and my personal favorite: “Use it when you’re in the red.”
This post is part of our ongoing series exploring the millions of previously-secret tobacco industry documents now available on the Internet. – Ed.
“Project SCUM” was R.J. Reynolds’ plan to increase sales of Camel cigarettes in the San Francisco area by marketing them to gay people in the Castro district, “rebellious, Generation X” -ers, people of “international influence” and “street people,” by introducing Camel cigarettes into less-traditional retail outlets like “head shops.” SCUM was an acronym that stood for “Sub-Culture Urban Marketing.” RJR’s rationale for the project was a higher incidence of smoking and drug use in these subcultures. There are several versions of the “Project SCUM” document, ranging in dates from 1995-97. Each offers revealing marginalia (handwritten markings on the page). For example, in one document, handwritten in next to a bulleted list of consumer subcultures are the words “Gay/Castro” and “Tenderloin,” referring to gay areas of San Francisco. Next to a list that discusses the rationale for the program, a line says “higher incidents of smoking in subcultures” and has the phrase “and drugs” handwritten in. On yet another copy, the phrase “and drugs” is crossed out, revealing RJR’s ambivalence about their exploitation of the drug culture. A later copy of the document’s title page has the word “SCUM” crossed out and the word “Sourdough” handwritten in, as though RJR realized too late the derogatory name they had slapped on their customers. See a copy of RJR’s Project Scum document here.
After people started avoiding high-fructose corn syrup in the foods they buy, the Corn Refiners Association (CRA) petitioned the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to change the name “high fructose corn syrup” to a more wholesome-sounding name on nutrition labels: “corn sugar.” That was in 2010. Around the same time corn refiners started a widespread TV ad campaign to try and convince people there is no significant difference between their product and regular, granulated white sugar — a claim that prompted refiners of granulated sugar to file a lawsuit against the CRA accusing them of deceiving the public. Now comes more bad news for the corn guys: May 30, 2012, the FDA squashed CRA’s hopes for renaming its much-maligned product when the agency officially rejected their requested change. FDA told CRA that the agency defines sugar as a dried, crystallized solid — not a syrup. In a press release, the CRA said the “vast majority of American consumers are confused” about high-fructose corn syrup and claimed FDA denied its application on “narrow, technical grounds.” Changing names to escape a PR debacle is common. Two examples: Cigarette maker Philip Morris changed its name to “Altria” to relieve its food companies of the taint of tobacco, and the mercenary firm Blackwater changed its name to “Xe” after its agents engaged in the Nisour Square massacre in Iraq in 2007.
The average fast food restaurant meal today is over four times bigger than it was in the 1950s, according to a new website by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control. The site, MakingHealthEasier.org, encourages healthy behaviors to help head off chronic disease. CDC finds that portion creep has resulted in a “new abnormal” for food portions in American society. In the 1950s, the average fountain soda at a fast food restaurant was just 7 ounces. Today it’s 42 ounces. The average hamburger was 3.9 ounces, and today it’s 12 ounces. A portion of french fries in the 1950s was just 2.4 ounces and today it is 6.7 ounces. Since the early 1900s, the average size of a chocolate bar has increased by 1,233 percent. Since the 1960s, the weight of the average American woman has increased by 24.5 pounds and the average weight of a man has increased by 28 pounds. As portions have grown, so have obesity and diabetes, and the problems and medical expense they bring. In 1958, only about one percent of the country’s population had diabetes. By 2009, that number had risen 22 percent. In 2011, an estimated 25.6 million (11.3%) (pdf) of people age 20 and above were diagnosed with diabetes in the U.S., with an estimated 7 million more undiagnosed. Medical expenses for diabetics are over two times greater than people without diabetes.
The major television networks ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC are arguing that skipping commercials while watching TV shows recorded on a digital video recorder (DVR) is illegal. In a lawsuit against Dish Network, the TV networks are charging that a new feature called “AutoHop” on Dish’s new DVR that allows people to skip TV ads “induces” copyright infringement. The networks claim that skipping ads in effect robs the advertisers who pay good money to the networks with the expectation that viewers will be forced to see them. The problem is that the manufacturer of a technology can’t be held liable for inducing copyright infringement unless customers are actually proven to infringe, so the networks must prove to a court that people who simply record a TV show, watch it at a later time and skip the ads are violating federal copyright law. The networks’ suit mimics a previous lawsuit they filed in 2002 against a company called ReplayTV that made a recording device with an automatic commercial-skip feature. The sheer expense of the lawsuit drove ReplayTV out of business before a court could rule on their theory of copyright infringement. Now the networks are leveling same charges against Dish, but Dish is fighting back. It’s filed its own lawsuit against the networks charging them with attempting to stifle its latest innovation. In its counter-suit, Dish points out that its “Hopper” recorder does not erase or delete any commercials, and they “remain on the recording and can be readily viewed at each customer’s individual option.”
Main source: Electronic Frontier Foundation, May 25, 2012
This 1989 R.J. Reynolds marketing report summarizes a company brainstorming session to find ways to increase sales of Salem cigarettes to African Americans. It exemplifies how marketers view a target audience and try to appeal to them, in this case to market an addictive and deadly product. The report concludes that “the best way to reach minority consumers is through their local communities.” It says,
“…the brand’s support must be seen as being backed by other blacks — not as a big white company’s tactic to sell to blacks. If Salem can become a positive contributing factor to blacks’ economic and personal well-being, it could ultimately be ‘unpatriotic to smoke anything else.”
The marketers say “Salem should be seen as a friend,” and suggest ways to play up the positive aspects of [young adult] black smokers and their lifestyle, listing words and fashion items from the African American community at the time:
“…fresh” “fade” (kill) “bank” (money) “hooked”(together) “chillin'” “def” (cold, funky, hard, it’s happening) “stylin'” “dis” (disrespectful) – lots of bracelets – 2-3 holes in ear (African influence) – nose studs – fades, parts, braids – thrashed jeans – micro spandex shorts – side snap warm-up suits…”
Skechers, the maker of those roly-poly “toning shoes” that were a big craze back in 2010, will shell out $40 million to settle charges that it deceived consumers with phony claims the shoes conferred health benefits like weight loss, muscle strengthening and butt toning. Back in 2010, fitness footwear companies like Skechers, Nike and Reebok raked in about $1.1 billion from the “toning shoe” market by charging between $100 and $200 a pair for the shoes. Skechers controlled about 60 percent of the market, and Reebok had about a 33 percent share. The companies created demand for the shoes by running ads that falsely claimed they would help wearers “shape up while you walk” or “get in shape without setting foot in a gym.” The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) alleged that the shoe manufacturers fudged studies and statistics to make claims about the shoes that they could not support. Last September, Reebok agreed to pay $25 million to settle charges that it deceptively advertised roly-poly shoes with names like TrainTone, RunTone and EasyTone. The companies are paying the millions of dollars into a fund to which shoe purchasers can apply for a refund. If you bought Reebok toning shoes, you can click here to apply for a refund. People who fell for Skechers “butt toning” shoe ads and bought them can keep an eye on this website to get refunds when the account it set up.
Main source: Advertising Age, May 16, 2012
People who buy bottled water pay up to 1,900 times what tap water costs, but get less access to key information about the pricey water than they do for tap water. Big companies that sell bottled water, like Pepsi (Aquafina) and Coke (Crystal Geyser), want you to think their water is special, but refuse to reveal where their water comes from, the methods used to purify it or whether their own testing revealed any contaminants in the water. According to the Environmental Working Group (pdf), the makers of the top ten best-selling brands of bottled water refuse to answer at least one of those questions. Only one — Nestle, maker of Pure Life Purified water — willingly discloses the specific source of its water, treatment method and gives consumers access to a water quality test report. Digging for information reveals that at at least one brand of bottled water, Aquafina, is bottled from a public water source. California passed a law in 2007 ordering bottle water manufacturers to publicly disclose quality information about their bottled water, but as of 2011 only 34 percent of companies were complying with the law. When asked to supply water quality information, the makers of Aquafina claimed it was “proprietary information” that was “not for the public.” Bottled water companies make claims like their water is purely from rainfall, purified by “equatorial winds” (Fiji Water) or can help you live longer, but cannot and do not substantiate these claims. In the mean time, every 27 hours, Americans drink enough bottled water to circle the Earth with plastic bottles stacked end to end. EWG recommends drinking filtered tap water instead of bottled water. Municipalities issue annual tap water quality reports that are always available to the public.
This 1987 Philip Morris brainstorming document is full of bizarre ideas for how to make cigarettes more appealing and marketable to consumers, and how to design cigarettes to help counter the social stigma of smoking. Ideas include making cigarettes that deodorize a room, control appetite, alter consciousness, administer an aphrodisiac, mimic certain drugs, emit insect repellant, control cholesterol intake, serve as a laxative, renew energy, and even –amazingly enough — cure cancer (although ironically this last one was one of the very few ideas that was later crossed off the list).
Page 3 contains a brief discussion of how to lure quitters back to smoking: “Someone suggested talking with quitters to discover how we might recover these consumers…” The document also discusses ways to “turn the tables” on the Surgeon General by making a “healthy cigarette,” and ways to make the pack more attractive and useful. Ideas include making the pack into a smoke detector, an alarm clock, a calculator, a “handy mirror,” a “breatholyzer”, or use microchips to make packs that play tunes, or tell smokers how many cigarettes remain in the pack. Another idea was for a “jolt” cigarette that offered extra-high nicotine. Other ideas included cigarettes that enhance athletic performance and increase lung capacity, or slow formation of wrinkles, a “taco-dorito”- flavored cigarette and a carbonated cigarette that would make the mouth all tingly.
The grassroots effort to push Rush Limbaugh off the airwaves in Missoula, Montana reports that as of this week 18 advertisers have pulled their ads off Limbaugh’s local broadcast on KVGO Radio — six more than last week’s total. Dave Chrismon, organizer of RushOutOfMissoula.com, also discovered some advertisers held the mistaken belief that because they purchased packages of ads from KGVO, they had no control over where there ads are placed. This turned out to be untrue. An anonymous KGVO employee told Chrismon the radio station’s computer system can easily keep any business’s ads, or any nonprofit organization’s public service announcements, off Limbaugh’s show while still running them on other shows. Business owners just need to ask KGVO to keep their ads off Limbaugh’s show. On another front, KGVO went into full attack mode last week over what it calls the “Hush Rush” campaign. On Monday, April 30, the station featured a local business owner and Rush supporter on its “Talk Back” program who called RushOutOfMissoula participants “blackmailers” for voicing their opinion about where he should place his ads. The show stimulated a flood of “dittoheads” (Rush Limbaugh supporters) to call the show and verbally abuse business owners who asked that their ads be removed from Limbaugh’s program — but many of those businesses still advertise on KGVO.
Abbott Laboratories, the maker of Ensure, PaediaSure, Similac and Vicodin, pled guilty to misbranding and illegally marketing its drug Depakote. Abbott will pay a $1.6 billion fine and undergo five years of probation under an agreement reached with the U.S. Department of Justice in which Abbott admitted that from 1998 to 2006 it kept a separate, specially-trained sales force to market Depakote to nursing homes for the control of aggression and agitation in elderly patients with dementia, even though no credible scientific research existed showing Depakote was effective for that use. Abbott also admitted that from 2001 through 2006 it marketed Depakote for the treatment schizophrenia, in the absence of any proof that the drug was effective for that condition, either. Abbott funded two separate studies on the use of Depakote for schizophrenia, but neither study met its set goals. Abbott took two years to tell its sales force about the failed studies, and in the meantime kept marketing Depakote for schizophrenia. The case against Abbott arose in 2007 when a former Abbott saleswoman filed a lawsuit accusing the company of encouraging its sales force to illegally promote use of Depakote in nursing homes and publicly-operated mental health centers, where most patients are covered by federal health programs like Medicaid. Whistleblowers also filed suits against Abbott in Virginia, Illinois and the District of Columbia accusing the company of paying illegal kickbacks to doctors and pharmacists to discuss off-label uses of Depakote to increase sales.
Main source: Courthouse News Service, May 7, 2012
Big health insurers have found yet another new way to extort customers — by buying up “pharmacy benefit managers,” (companies that supply medications to people) and then forcing subscribers to buy medications exclusively from the drug distributors they own. People are receiving letters from their health insurance companies telling them they must either buy medications from a specific company they own and get medications through the mail, or patronize a retail drug store of their choice and pay a much higher price. Prices may be lower for insurance companies under this kind of arrangement, but policyholders miss out on face-to-face interaction with pharmacists, who verbally counsel customers on drug dosing instructions and dangerous interactions with other drugs. Herding people towards a single option drug supplier is also taking a toll on neighborhood pharmacies who have been serving the same families for generations. The trend towards consolidation in the drug sales market starkly limits consumer choice. Just three major pharmacy benefit management companies dominate the drug delivery market: Express Scripts Holding, which recently bought Medco for $29 billion, CVS Caremark, and OptumRX, a subsidiary that now belongs to the big health insurance company UnitedHealthcare Group.
If your hairline is receding and you’re are thinking about taking Merck’s baldness drug Propecia, you might want to think again. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) ordered drug maker Merck to change the warning labels for Propecia and its prostate drug Proscar to include “libido disorders, ejaculation disorders and orgasm disorders,” conditions that FDA notes may continue well after patients stop taking the drugs. While FDA says it isn’t clear whether finasteride, the active chemical in Propecia and Proscar, is what causes the persistent sexual problems, side effects reported by those using the drugs “suggest a broader range of adverse effects than previously reported in patients taking these drugs.” FDA approved Proscar in 1992 and Propecia in 1997. Since then, the agency has reviewed 421 post-marketing reports of sexual dysfunction from those taking Propecia between 1998 and 2011. Of those, 59 cases described sexual dysfunction lasting a minimum of three months after discontinuing Propecia. FDA reviewed 131 reports of similar problems associated with Proscar. In 2011, FDA ordered the warning labels of both product be revised to include erectile dysfunction that continues after patients stop taking the drug. People can report adverse side effects of prescription drugs to FDA’s MedWatch hotline at 1-800-332-1088, report them online at MedWatch Online or through the U.S. mail using the MedWatch form (pdf) available at FDA’s website.
The state of Arkansas has ordered Johnson & Johnson and one of its subsidiaries, Janssen Pharmaceuticals, to pay $1.2 billion in fines for deceptively marketing the antipsychotic drug Risperdal, approved to treat conditions like schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. The companies were accused of failing to provide adequate warning about potential side effects of the drug, which include diabetes, weight gain, neurological problems and increased risk of strokes and death in elderly patients with dementia. Fletch Trammell, a lawyer in the case who had used Risperdal, said that J&J hid studies that showed Risperdal caused diabetes at a higher rate than a competing drug. The court also found nearly 240,000 instances in which the companies violated the state laws against Medicaid fraud, with each count representing one prescription for Risperdal written to a state Medicaid patient over a 3 1/2 year period. The fine for the Medicaid fraud portion of the case, at $5,000 per prescription, was the state’s minimum. A 12 person jury deliberated for three hours before finding against J&J. Arkansas is just one of several states suing over Risperdal. South Carolina and Texas have already reached settlements with J&J in their lawsuits. J&J plans to appeal the Arkansas ruling, claiming it did not break the law and that the package insert that comes with the medication was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
Main source: New York Times, April 11, 2012
Fifty-eight percent of Facebook users are women, and women account for over 70 percent of daily fan activity on the site, but when Facebook goes public a few weeks from now, its board of directors will consist of only seven white men, and no women. To address this inequity, the women’s rights group Ultraviolet has started circulating a petition, and a group of women from across the world have started a campaign called “Face It” to pressure Facebook to include women — and expand the diversity — on its board. What’s raising eyebrows even more about the complete absence of women from the board is the extent to which Facebook depends on women, since women are known to be more avid users of Facebook than men and account for about 70 percent of Facebook’s fan activity. Facebook’s estimated $100 billion public stock offering would not be anywhere as big as it is without massive participation from women — a fact that the demographics of its board fails to reflect.
The makers of Belvedere Vodka yanked a controversial ad that appeared to joke about rape. The ad showed a horrified woman trying desperately to escape from a leering man who was grabbing her from behind. The tagline read, “Unlike some people, Belvedere always goes down smoothly.” The company tweeted the controversial ad and posted it on their Facebook page, only to get strong and immediate backlash. Belvedere moved quickly to remove the post and apologized several times. Belvedere’s ad agency, Arnell Group, has done ads with strong sexual overtones for the brand before, but the agency denies that it created this particularly controversial ad.
Main Source: Ad Age, March 23, 2012
Two young British men desperate to pay off student debt and facing dismal prospects for employment have started selling ad space on their faces — and are doing remarkably well at, it while having a blast. Ross Harper and Ed Moyse, both 22, created BuyMyFace.com, where people go to schedule the time they want rent the two young mens’ faces. Customers then upload a logo or picture along with any brief text they want displayed, and then, on the appropriate dates, Harper and Moyse have the specified graphics expertly painted on their faces and go out and about in public sporting the ads. Advertisers can send the two men to festivals, skiing, skydiving, go-karting or on other adventures to help boost visibility of their ads. The two are advertising their service on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and LinkedIn, as well as through newspapers and word of mouth. The big, London-based audit and financial advisory firm Ernst and Young bought ten days’ worth of advertising on BuyMyFace.com in December, 2011, and have since become exclusive sponsor of the BuyMyFace.com website. In addition to winning the firm’s valuable sponsorship, thousands of people are visiting BuyMyFace.com every day. Days are sold for the next two months, ranging in price from £150-600 (U.S. $238-955). Now, at day 180 of their unique effort, Harper and Moyse have earned £32,682 (about U.S. $52,000) toward paying off their student loans.
Source: PRWeb UK, March 29, 2012
A new word has entered the lexicon: “Pharmageddon.” Wiktionary defines it as “a dystopian scenario wherein medicine and the pharmaceuticals industry have a net detrimental effect on human health and medical progress does more harm than good.” We are fast approaching pharmageddon, as drugs are increasingly fast-tracked to approval and only later found to do little or no good, or, even worse, to cause harm. In 2010, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) pulled the breast cancer drug Avastin off the market, after having fast-tracked its approval. Over $6 billion worth of Avastin was sold before two follow up studies showed that the survival rate of patients who took Avastin was no better than patients who took other drugs. Not only did huge numbers of women take this essentially worthless drug to treat their breast cancer, but the listed side effects of Avastin included conditions severe enough to merit a descriptor of potentially fatal several times in the drug’s informational brochure. Another factor in prescription drug danger is the fact that drug companies are increasingly engaging in criminal behavior aimed at boosting sales at any cost. In 2009, the drug maker Pfizer paid a record $2.3 billion fine and pled guilty to a felony for illegally promoting its painkiller Bextra. Pfizer paid kickbacks to doctors and dished out perks, like massages and all-expense-paid trips to fancy resorts, to get doctors to prescribe Bextra for off-label, or unapproved, uses. Like Avastin, Bextra was ultimately pulled off the market due to safety concerns. This wasn’t the first or even the second time Pfizer had been caught marketing drugs illegally, either. It was the fourth time just since 2002 that FDA had fined Pfizer or one of its subsidiaries fined for marketing its drugs in an illegal manner.
Taking prescription drugs is increasingly fraught with danger. Adverse side effects have risen over the years to where they are now a leading cause of death, disability, and illness. It is estimated that only 1 to 10 percent of adverse drug events ever get reported to the FDA. Many people suffer side effects from prescription drugs that are considered “medically mild” but that are nonetheless disabling, like detrimental effects on memory, concentration, and judgment. Often people report adverse side effects to their doctors, only to be told there is little or no evidence linking their problem to the drug. This lack of information is not a mistake — it traceable to the fact that most of the data on prescription drugs is the property of the pharmaceutical companies, since the companies run most of the clinical trials for the drug. Up to 60% of these trials are never publicly reported. For obvious reasons, companies have a vested interest in not fully disclosing the side effects of their products.
Recognizing the extent and severity of the problem of prescription drug side effects, Dr. David Healy, author of a just-published book titled “Pharmageddon,” along with group of people who, like Healy, have risked their careers to speak out about adverse drug events, are developing a free website where people can share information on the side effects they experience while taking prescription drugs. RxRisk.org, in effect, aims to crowd-source real-time data about drug side effects, to create a fuller picture of exactly how these drugs are really affecting people. The site accepts no advertising and is not linked in any way to big Pharma. Use of it is free and anonymous. The site also helps users research drugs they are taking. People who report information on the side effects they experience can get a free report they can take to their doctors, to encourage fuller and more informed discussion of their treatment. Doctors can also add information to their patients’ reports. RxRisk.org’s advisory board is comprised of people with relatives injured by adverse drug events, health care activists and independent scientists. The site is currently in beta development, but RxRisk.org is a much-needed grassroots effort to track the side effects of prescription drugs and build a record of them, so that it eventually it will become unreasonable to say the problem can’t be happening in at least some people. Visit the new, consumer-friendly drug-tracking website here.