“Side Effects May Include…” One Way to Cope with Pharma Ads on TV

Garry Berman
4 min readMar 15, 2023

It has been estimated that a whopping 75 per cent of TV commercials today are for pharmaceutical products. When I first read that statistic, my first reaction was “Only 75 per cent?”

On broadcast/cable TV, they have become inescapable, with their slightly slow-motion depictions of people of all ages, races, and genders living life to the fullest — playing Frisbee on the beach, walking their dogs on a hiking trail, having bar-be-ques in their yards — all while the disclaimer-via-voiceover tells us how the wonderful product being advertised to alleviate one condition and/or its symptoms can, by the way, kill or permanently incapacitate the user in a dozen different ways.

We won’t get into how all of these ads came to invade our screens — we could go back nearly 30 years examining the various pieces of legislation by Congress, and the changing policies of a few select government agencies that made the explosion of pharma ads on TV possible. Perhaps we can wade through that sludge another time.

Of course, you can protect your sanity by keeping the TV remote within arm’s reach at all times, and hit the “MUTE” button for the duration of a pharma ad (which could very well be followed immediately by another pharma ad), or switch the channel for a few minutes, perhaps to something like coverage of a golf tournament, which isn’t likely be interrupted suddenly by an altogether different set of similar ads.

But the escape lasts for only so long. A pharma commercial ambush is never far away.

So, perhaps the best way to co-exist with these incessant advertisements is to adopt the “if you can’t beat ’em, join ‘em” philosophy, and conjure a new, original pharmaceutical and accompanying advertisement (with its all-important disclaimers) of your own, one that draws from the tsunami of mind-deadening ads we’ve all seen thousands of times already, and have virtually absorbed into our bloodstreams, much like the products they advertise.

Such as:

“Monostereo-hydroxyloxycurriculum has been shown to produce fast relief for a variety of minor physical afflictions, from aching muscles to eye strain. Just one tablet twice a day will help lessen the severity of common daily ailments, such as tension headaches, constipation, and random drooling.

Take as directed. Swallow each tablet with one or more quarts of water, a high-potassium sports drink, or Yoo-hoo. Side effects may include nausea, joint stiffness, sore throat, moderate-to-severe hiccups, weight loss, weight gain, skin rash, a sudden shift in political ideology, temper tantrums, cold sores, a sudden shift back to original political ideology, blurred vision, loss of ability to taste and smell, and random drooling.

May lead to moderate-to-severe anxiety, depression, flatulence, or hallucinations of attacks by arachnids (spiders), yellow finches, badgers, or gibbons (rare). Suicidal thoughts may increase, especially after sunset, and/or after consuming heavy quantities of limburger cheese.

Some patients on Monostereo-hydroxyloxycurriculum report the urge to speak backwards, eat chalk, or ride unicycles and other circus-related props. Possible moderate-to-severe food cravings may include those for celery, bananas, clam chowder, chocolate chip mint ice cream, rye bread (seedless), and tartar sauce.

Do not use shampoo or toothpaste while on this medication. Do not sleep on your side, back, or stomach. However, prolonged periods without sleep may cause drowsiness, pinkeye, and random drooling. Do not swim, climb stairs, thumb-wrestle, or squat thrust for 30 minutes after taking each dose. Do not drive a car, bulldozer, or shopping cart for 60 minutes after each dose. Do not take if your height is between 5’4” and 6’2”. See your primary care physician if you experience nasal irritation, haughtiness, or just to pay your doctor a friendly visit.”

Such a frivolous exercise will do nothing to eradicate the spate of such TV ads we contend with each day, but it just might help us cope with the real thing…or not. At the very least, it may support the argument that laughter is the best medicine after all.

Until next time…

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Garry Berman

Pop Culture historian, Freelance Writer, Author, specializing in American comedy history in films, radio, and TV. Beatles and jazz enthusiast, animal lover.