Selling birth-control pills: What do you think of the ads?

Filed Under: Costs, Patients, Regulators

Lately we’ve covered the cost, popularity and trends in birth control pills, including our Price of BC map. It got us thinking about the source of some of the costs and profits–advertisements. We started to wonder, what do YOU think of birth control ads?

We’ve gathered a few of the funniest, most searing looks at ads for BC from around the blogosphere. Now we want to hear from you. Send us your praise, takedowns, critiques and thoughts on the ads that you’ve seen. Get specific–pass along a link to the ad, or the site–and don’t be afraid to speak your mind. We’ll sift through the entries, and post some of our favorites on the ClearHealthCosts.com blog. As always, you can send it all to info [at] clearhealthcosts [dot] com.

Video: CurrentTV’s Sarah Haskins, Target Women

Like any multi-billion-dollar industry, the world of birth control is full of  ads trying to sell women the newest, or most innovative, or most effective product. Newer pills are often more expensive, so the sales job involves convincing  women that this product offers something new and improved over their current choice.

The claims go beyond preventing pregnancy, to touting lighter periods, better skin and improved moods in scenes with women jumping, dancing and generally looking lighthearted and free.

Associating birth control with other “feminine” issues and qualities is not new.

I did a little digging, and stumbled upon some BC-advertising history. Back in the 1920s and 30s, obscenity laws prevented companies from straight-up advertising for contraception. But that doesn’t mean they didn’t sell it. The women popping into Bloomingdale’s for their diaphragms and ordering their contraceptive douche (yes, you heard right) from Sears understood the underlying meaning of ads for “feminine hygiene” products. Everyone knew it was birth control, but as long as no one burst the euphemistic bubble, regulators looked the other way.

Carton for ‘Clinocap’ diaphragm, London, England, 1930-1960, Credit: Science Museum, London

Nine decades on, things are much more straightforward. Ads for birth control bills don’t pretend to be anything but–or do they? As CurrentTV’s Sarah Haskins points out, the ads seem as much about period

control as pregnancy prevention. Many appeal as much to a woman’s desire to have clear skin and control apparently RAGING HORMONES as a desire to have sex, but not children.

Part of that is creating something new. To make money on newly branded (and more profitable) pills, women need to be convinced that there is a newer, better product out there. Maybe even one that can do more than just keep pesky babies at bay.

Yaz Ad, 2007:

Companies have gone to town on advertising–TV, print, magazine–to try to carve out a bigger slice of a very profitable pie. Promotions try to make that little pill (or bigger pill, or vaginal rings) seem fun. Even kinda sexy. Something you gab about in the club with your girlfriends. A takedown of some of the ads from Only magazine makes the argument that birth control has gone from a pregnancy prevention tool to a “life-style drug.”

Such ads have led to regulatory wrist slapping. In 2009, Bayer, maker of the popular Yaz brand of birth control bills, had to run ads clarifying the rather lofty claims that previous ads put forth about what exactly Yaz could do. (Help prevent pregnancy, yes. Make your skin silky smooth and cure all PMS, no.)

Not to harp on Bayer, because the company is not alone, but it does seem to constantly be pushing into new territory. Bayer even started up an entire site, BayerForWomen to, as a rep put it in 2010, “encourage women to get the full picture about their birth control.” In January, an ad for Beyaz, a spiffed up formulation of the popular Yaz, caught the eye, and the sarcastic bite, of Jezebel. (FYI: the lady-site much preferred a Plan B ad, for reasons you can peruse). The contrast in the reactions is telling. At least looking at Jezebel, it seems some women don’t mind being sold a product–they just don’t want to be sold a bill of goods.

Do the critiques from CurrentTV, Jezebel and Only resonate with you? Do you think they are off the mark? What BC ads have you seen that got you thinking? Let us know. We’ll post it, and start the conversation. Send it all to info [at] clearhealthcosts [dot] com.