Bingo Fun With Pharmaceutical Ads: What Can They Teach Us About Marketing?

bingo buttonsBig Pharma spends about $500 million every year placing ads about their drugs in medical journals. In fact, much like Vogue magazine, up to 1/3 of the pages in your average medical journal are full page ads. If you’re trying to sell more drugs, it does make sense to advertise in these journals, because those who will prescribe these drugs read these journals. Return on investment for journal drug ads is estimated to be an impressive $5 for every $1 that a drug company spends on these ads.

Because drug ads in medical journals are so darned successful in getting physicians to prescribe these drugs to their patients, some ethical doctors have taken it upon themselves to help interpret Big Pharma marketing.  For example, how about a rousing game of Bingo Fun with Pharmaceutical Ads: What Can They Teach Us About Marketing?” 

Originally designed to be played by med students and residents, this Bingo game workshop is also very educational for us lowly patients who want to interpret Direct To Consumer drug ads, or identify the many ingenious ways that Big Pharma markets their products to both physicians and patients. Workshop participants are shown a variety of medical journal drug ads, and then trained to spot the tricks used by pharmaceutical companies to convince physicians to prescribe them.

Bingo cards contain squares named “Appeal to celebrity” or “Non-medical catchy slogan” or “Brand name much larger than generic name“. There’s even one for “Red herring: factual but irrelevant information“.

For larger workshop audiences, these Bingo workshops also includes a rousing game of Drug Advertisement Scavenger Hunt. This scavenger hunt has a form where participants tick off which featured drug ad they identify as “Printed on heavy weight paper” or “Touted as new or first” or “Invents a new disease or diagnosis“.

It’s all featured on the website Pharmed Out, and is the brainchild of Arizona physician Dr. Steven Brown, of Banners Good Samaritan Family Medicine Residency. Dr. Brown hopes that physicians who complete this innovative workshop training will be able to:

  • understand the difference between a rational and non-rational sales pitch
  • recognize commonly used drug company sales techniques
  • apply lessons learned from interpreting journal ads to other Big Pharma sales techniques like “detailing” (intensive office visits from company sales reps) and Direct to Consumer ads


4 thoughts on “Bingo Fun With Pharmaceutical Ads: What Can They Teach Us About Marketing?

  1. Boy, you have changed how I flip through magazines now. I’ll stop at those slick full-page drug ads from now on to play Bingo!

    Thanks – this is brilliant. Great job you’re doing. I’m a fan and a new subscriber.

  2. Thanks a lot for these interesting links. I can think of several workplace applications where ‘bingo’ games like these would be both entertaining and very educational!

  3. “Factual but irrelevant” info in drug ads? As you would say, for the sake of clarity, let’s call this “lying”…. Love the Bingo concept.

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