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Pharma Marketing Battle: Chantix vs. Abilify

Pharma Marketing Battle: Chantix vs. Abilify

(Editor’s Note that Precedes The P.S.-style Editor’s Note: Writing a pro bono internet website read by literally tens of people requires a delicate emotional balance.  And a lot of red wine.  Actually, the red wine part is really the key part of the equation.  And, frankly, I have been a little inadequate at my recent DWW attempts – frankly, I blame my meager attempts at good health.  (Also, this writing is atrocious – notice how I repeated “parts” and  “attempts” in the previous sentences?  Awful.  Anyway, I took a whole week off from drinking in an effort to run 8:30 miles during last weekends 15k…and I managed instead to blow that by almost 40 seconds per mile.  Lame.  Fuck that noise, I’m gonna be more dedicated to my craft. /Editor’s Note)

During my many hours of daily television intake, when my (or SO’s) fingers aren’t nimble enough to locate the fast forward button, I occasionally come face-to-face with television commercials (a quaint concept, I know; nowadays people mostly see ads either at the movies, while playing Angry Birds or when visiting websites with annoying sidebars).  And every so often, I am forced to ask myself “was that for real or some kind of parody?  Are we inadvertently watching an old SNL?”  Once I realize I haven’t just seen 2-3 consecutive fictional celebrity talk show sketches, I know it’s not SNL, and it’s probably something meant to actually entice consumers.  Invariably, these ridiculous commercials are for pharmaceutical products.

As you may recall, I have some experience in the pharma field.  Pharmaceutical advertising isn’t even legal in most countries (the U.S. and the homeland of the Flight of the Conchords excepted); television ads only fairly recently re-hit the airwaves here (back in 1997).  The FDA has always been a bit of a stickler for disclosure on medical products, even when the actual likelihood of a side effect (such as Flamin Hot diarrhea from the WOW brand of fat free chips (since remarketed as just Lays Light))  is very small.  Since the pharma companies have to run their commercials by the FDA, they invariably end up with disclaimers as long as, or longer than, the actual product-promoting content of the commercials – often to hilarious effect.  Who doesn’t laugh when the side effects “may include bloody vomit, gangrene and permanent blindness” for some fucking drug meant to prevent ingrown toenails?

Anyway, the two leading contenders in the category of “Most Hilarious Pharma Commercial” are certainly Abilify and Chantix.  Anyone who’s ever seen/heard either one knows what I’m talking about – the kind of shit where if you happen to be in another room and hear the commercial, you’ll move at Boltian speeds to make sure you can catch a glimpse of the earnest actors praising the risk/reward of “facial lesions that would embarass Al Davis” vs. actually being “able” to do stuff due to using Abilify (in conjunction, of course, with other depression meds.)  That’s genius marketing, probably some of the strongest advertising work since someone decided to spruce up the latest Sandler movie trailer with Brooklyn Decker in a yellow bikini roughly 3 sizes too small for her.  But who does it best?


Pharma Marketing Battle: Chantix vs. Abilify


Stupidity of Name:  This is the easiest category to determine a winner.  Chantix is a foolish name, indeed – it doesn’t really scream “this shit’ll make you stop smoking!” but it doesn’t go that extra mile and passive aggressively poke fun at its potential users.  Abilify, on the other hand, is a stupid name in a vacuum – is this a James Cameron production? – and also manages to suggest that people who are in the market for Abilify are somehow “not able” to handle life unless unless they complement their therapy with it.

Winner: Abilify, in a landslide


Side Effects:  This is a close one.  Chantix: changes in behavior, hostility, agitation, depressed mood, suicidal thoughts or actions, swelling of the face, mouth, and throat that can cause trouble breathing, rash with peeling skin or blisters in your mouth.  Abilify: increased risk of stroke and ministroke in elderly people with dementia-related psychosis, very high fever, rigid muscles, shaking, confusion, sweating, or increased heart rate and blood pressure, uncontrollable movements of face, tongue, or other parts of body, lightheadedness or faintness caused by a sudden change in heart rate and blood pressure when rising quickly from a sitting or lying position, decreases in white blood cells (infection fighting cells).  There’s some other stuff in there, check the advertisements (and some of this was paraphrased, so, at the behest of my legal advisors, please read the product insert and consult your physician before using any information provided at this site as medical, financial or sociological advice.

Winner:  Abilify, by a couple more hair-raising side effects.


Seriousness of Disorder in Question:

Winner:  No real winner here; I’m not one of those types who think depression is just a “suck it up, dude, things get better” kind of situation.  I believe chemical imbalances exist and are damn near impossible to deal with (RIP, B).  As a person whose two favorite passtimes are drinking cheap red wine and making -EV wagers at the craps table, I also have a soft spot for addiction.  But, given that my Dad had a 5-pack-a-day smoking habit and he dropped it cold turkey once my mom had her first bypass, I’m gonna have to give the edge to…

Winner:  …Abilify, yet again…


Hilarity of Commercial:  As Mike Singletary would say, I’ve got to look at the tape on this one.  Despite the significant edge Abilify has rung up to this point, the commercial is an opportunity to make some serious inroads.



Tough call, but I think the Chantix guy sounds a little too frantic when listing the possible negatives of his product, like he’s trying to subliminally suggest “dude, just fucking quit smoking, this shit causes dragon dreams!” while the Abilify guy is a little calmer when going over the harrowing negatives of his product.

Winner:  Chantix, by a nose (which might be bleeding or have some serious blister issues if you are taking Chantix)


How Far Would a Winter‘s Bone Character Go To Acquire the Product?:

Claims to have eaten a philly cheesesteak right before the red carpet
This scary mother fucker... also Kenny Powers' decidedly unscary brother???

Winner:  This was really just a chance to show an image of Jennifer Lawrence, who basically shut down Twitter during the Academy Awards.  Luckily, she’s from Kentucky and had such inconsequential sound bites as “I’m attracted to my brother” and…actually, I forgot any other shit she said after reinforcing the stereotype that keeps the ‘Sas one step ahead of Kentucky and Mississippi.  Also, give Teardrop a fucking Oscar already, that guy was insane in that movie.  The movie overall?  Do not recommend, too redonkulous.

Anyway, I originally thought that the methheads in Missourisas might be interested in something with nicotine properties, but once i listed to the Chantix pitch for the third time, i realized it wasn’t like an oral patch.  So I’m sure the crazy bastards would be more likely to find something bad to do with Abilify.

Winner: Abilify


Overall Winner: Abilify, for its whole body of work.


I don’t have another category, so I will offer the pharma marketing geniuses some other potential product names:

Ten Potential Names for Blockbuster Drugs-To-Be (over $1 billion in annual sales)

  1. Hardonihav – Erectile Dysfunction
  2. Onliu – Schizophrenia
  3. Unfuckifiurselv – Depression (second generation Abilify)
  4. Ididarox – Fear of sled-dog racing (not to be confused with Ididarod – the goto medicine for people who wake up and realize they slept with the Yankees’ third basemen (really just Valtrex mixed with spray tan remover))
  5. Vaselox – Running-induced Nipple Abrasion
  6. Yeastclops – Weird Eye Rash
  7. Theismax – Broken Knee
  8. Narrouraz – Obesity
  9. Wrecksneff-X – Restless Rump Disorder
  10. Notpayingattentionatol – Attention Deficit Disorder



Later, Chilly

P.S.  This didn’t turn out the way I’d expected, one of the main reasons it’s deathly dangerous to put something on the shelf in my business.  In fact, I hate this post.  But once you are this far in, you just hit Publish.  (I say business purely because Bat Rastard bought a lot of CD-RWs on amazon through my link, I’m gonna be fucking knee-deep in Beefy Crunch Burritos.)

After even further review – I really hate this post.


Not-That-Crappy Jobs I’ve Had: Pharma Sales Rep (Part II)

Not-That-Crappy Jobs I’ve Had: Pharma Sales Rep (Part II)

Ahhh, pharma repping, I’ll never forget the grand ole days of waking up at 11:45, grabbing some T-Bell or Arby’s, driving around for a bit in my lowered Taurus and then calling it a day.  42 large for doing that?  Shit, I’d do that now, considering how it wouldn’t really impact my lifestyle and shit.

#2.  Sales Representative for a “Big Pharma” Company

(Scoring: 10 means job is awesome, 0 means job sucks)

Attire: As previously mentioned, most pharma reps are ladies of the hot persuasion.  In the late 90s the drug companies unwisely thought that bringing in some studly specimens such as myself would help woo the “gatekeepers” who control access to the doctors.  (I have to explain the obvious sometimes – 30% of my readers are Canadian.)  At Pharma X, we didn’t have to wear suits, just a long sleeve shirts, some sweet Dockers and a tie.  Which was great, because the average daily temperature in Fresno, CA is 117 degrees.

Ladies, on the other hand, were encouraged to wear outfits of the tight and low-cut varieties.  One of the few jobs (Hooters waitress, sexy car wash attendant, belly dancer) where guys have virtually no chance.  In fact, pharma sales rep is about to be recognized as the pre-eminent sexy lady job on the hit television series How I Met Your Mother.  (Apparently Carrie Underwood is gonna guest star as a rep who hooks up with Ted.  HIMYM writers – let’s cool it a bit with the guest stars, okay?  Although, true story, Underwood performed a mall parking lot concert that was only attended by my parents about seven years ago.  Nice career trajectory.)  Any cursory web search on the topic will reveal pageant winners who are pharma reps in the pharma-afterlife.

True of false: Doctors preferred talking to me, or former Miss Florida Cristin Duren?

Score:  7 (Better than wearing a uniform, but the brutal heat left something to be desired and learning to tie a tie was a bitch.  Before my interview I went to Men’s Wearhouse and got one of those laminated “how to tie a tie” cards and had to try like 3000 times before I got a passable knot in the $20 tie I bought at Bon Marche.  Luckily in banking I switched to Brioni, which ties a magical knot every time.  Brioni represent.)

Prevailing Smell/Aroma:  89% my apartment (mostly Pepsi One and chicken Teriyaki), 11% sick people

Score:  7 (As great as the job was for the lazy and unambitious, it was pretty depressing going to the clinics in the San Joaquin valley.  A rep’s job is to get time with the doctors to explain why product X is so much better than a competitor’s chemically similar product, but there was significant behind-the-scenes action as the products had to be “on formulary” (a list of products that government or insurance programs would pay for) before the doctor could prescribe in the first place.  It was pretty brutal rolling into a free clinic filled with sick folks, wasting the time of some doctor who sees 30-50 patients per day.  I generally gave them my samples and got out of the way, unless they wanted to talk about sports or the market.  Note to potential new employers: my work ethic has vastly improved.)

Humiliation Factor: This was surprisingly high for me; after spending five years on a submarine, 1.5 of which I spent learning up on reactor physics, chemistry/materials and a bunch of other shit I can’t recall one iota of, I was suddenly in training with kids fresh out of undergrad.  (Although I was sequestered in a hotel in Seattle for six weeks, rocking Wild Ginger like every single day.  Thanks, fat per diem.)  Once out of training and into “the field” (this is sales jargon for, “where you work,” and apparently it’s inexplicably used in every sales job despite the fact there are no sideline boundaries or chalk anywhere) it was the height of the dot-com boom and all anyone wanted to talk about were stocks.  That became my thing – I had doctors just sign for the samples instead of chatting about anything Pharma X-related and instead shot the shit about how Qualcomm was definitely headed for $2,000.  I was daytrading (with ultimately disastrous effects) and wanted to take a shot at finance.  B-school beckoned.

I should backtrack slightly here – what I’m describing reflects my average day, ie the 29 days/month that my boss didn’t come to “ride along” with me.  That day was always right up there with a shitty Navy day (but still, it was only 3% of any given month).  We had to fill out detailed “call logs” that described the conversations that we had with doctors, and exaggeration was common, since most often we didn’t do shit.  “We talked about PMC Sierra for ten minutes” was not a viable description of a call, had to be more like “discussed the Prisninski study and Bitarx efficacy compared to Flumix.”  When my manager “Stan” (a super good dude, Mormon guy who was all bizness during work hours and who apparently spent his off-work hours procreating) was riding with me, the doctors would invariably not play along and pretend like they knew who I was and really enjoyed debated the merits of once-a-day Scivar vs. twice a day Graparz last week.  Brutality.

Score:  5 (One of the worst pharma days I can recall is waiting til the last day to work on my HBS application, staying up all night at Kinko’s trying to figure out how to Photoshop a perfect looking application (don’t ask) and essentially rolling an all-nighter into a ride-along with Stan.  The only upside is that we saw Jerry Tarkanian at this Chinese restaurant when we stopped for lunch.  I am not an HBS alum and it’s partially Tark’s fault.)

Tark's karma probably kept me out of the ivory tower

Co-workers/Culture: A nice mix of adventurous emo chicks, good-girl mormons, beeyotches, womanizing dirtbags (meant in a good way) and tools.  That was for my training class and was reflective of the industry as a whole; my team in F-town was all older women.  They ended up being cool as shit, just as lazy as me and even more envelope-pushing with the limits of the expense account.  Note to firms with liberal expense accounts: all those Marie Callendar’s pies aren’t ending up with clients.  This became a feather in my interviewing cap, as I would explain how I moved between all-male and all-female work milieus with the ease of a good-natured hermaphrodite.

Score:  5 (I probably should expand on the above a bit.  Most pharma reps realize they have little impact on a doctors decision to use their product, that it’s mostly dictated by the formulary plans and insurance requirements.  When there’s some leeway, sure, but doctors were (are?) smart enough to spread the wealth a little bit when dealing with similar products.  Our region did fantastic saleswise, none of us worked very hard, and we recognized we had a great situation.  A Pharma Dork, though, is a whole different matter.  These guys and gals think they are really making an impact and get extremely invested in the process and the products.  I guess that describes an ideal employee.  I’ve probably never been an ideal employee, maybe because I find most products and services to be commodity-ish.  I need to work for Funyuns, something I can really get behind.)

Authority Figures: Stan was a solid guy, he went sort of out on a limb to hire me and I ultimately screwed him by bailing after exactly one year.  He was sort of passive aggressive on our ride-alongs, softly suggesting that I didn’t seem to be building strong “detailing” relationships with my doctors, which would have been much more dickish if it wasn’t so truish.

Score:  7 (The ladies who ran training were pretty bitchy to people, too.  Not so much to me, as I generally kept my nose clean and didn’t really have trouble picking up “the science.”  (Pharma people love to talk about “the science” – ie the company-funded studies that prove why their products are better than their competitor’s products.  Doctors who are being paid by the company also love to talk about “the science.”  No one else digs “the science.”))

Typical Hours Worked: 4-5 per week.  (Seriously)

Score:  10++++++++ (Such the good old days – I can remember when I would just stay home on Mondays and say I’d really hump it on Tues-Friday.  Then I’d stay home Tuesday too and just whip up some paperwork.  So many of the doctor’s offices had like 100 physicians, you just needed one person to sign for samples and then you could claim to have talked to everyone else.  Had to be careful, though, not to mention chatting with someone who’d recently died or something.)

Education Required: Science-related bachelor’s degree.

Score:  8 (They smudged the rules a bit for badasses with B.S.’s in English.)

Screaming Obscenities at Top of Lungs Acceptable? No, not in a doctor’s office.

Score:  2 (This was very disappointing, although since you spent so much time at home you could amp up your home screaming/cursing enough to offset.)

Stress Level: This is tough because it was a legitimate zero for 29/30 days and a strong 100% for the one day with Stan.  I was new though, so got a bit of benefit of the doubt.  Given that my friends generally knew not to call me before eleven because I’d still be asleep, I’m gonna go ahead and give pharma the nod on stress.

Score:  9 (The more things change – don’t call me before eleven, por favor.  Unless you are calling about Navy / Notre Dame tickets – fired up to see the mids take three of four from the Not-Fighting-But-Will-Give-You-A-Mean-Look Irish.)

Ridiculous Travel Required? There was a shitload of driving to do, the nether regions of my territory were like a three hour drive (I guess there are some boundary markers for “the field”).  But the SJ Valley is absolutely rife with T-Bells, Arby’ses, teriyaki joints and even solid burrito shops.  (I had my first ever chili verde when a colleague’s wife had me over for dinner.  For the record, proper chili verde is deliciousness personified.)  And you could listen to the radio; on the rare days where I was out by noon, there was Jim Rome (great on the radio, horrifically bad on TV) and then later you could listen to the KNBR types or some dude named Grandpa or something.  So the travel wasn’t so bad.

Score:  8 (The other travel involved was for the annual sales meetings, they were generally in some big city on the west coast.  The meetings themselves were pointless and shamelessly cheerleadery – but the boozing and debauchery were legendary.  Some of those pharma chicks are pretty wild – I definitely cursed myself many times for not starting out my life at a regular company.  Still do.)

Far more common in the SJ Valley than NYC, unfortunately

What Kind of Dough was Involved? 42 large, per annum.  Plus bonus and car, sucka.

Score:  7 (There was some animosity towards me for leaving after one year, even though I was going to a reputable B-School.  Going back to my Pharma X in Fresno vs. Pharma Y in Monterey decision – Pharma X was on an annual bonus system, and I just missed the cutoff for getting my $18k.  So beyond just living in the rectal region of California, I also made a lot less than I would’ve on the Coast.  Conclusion: I am a poor decision-maker.)

Summary: I think I left a lot of stuff out: the dinner programs (pay doctors to talk to other doctors about your products), the insane expenses related to the programs (I basically refused to pay the $1300 for my first set of invitations, turns out it wasn’t no thang), the extremely upbeat group voicemails that would sometimes appear out of nowhere.  Ultimately, you didn’t have to do much, the money wasn’t bad (all your gas was reimbursed, too, and the shares were going straight up) and you only got stressed once per month.  Most people would probably sign up for that.  Although I think they eventually got over that military thing and are back to only hiring hot chicks.

Verdict? It was a sweet gig.  (Good lord is this thing long.  I’m not proofreading this shiz, if their our alot of grammer misteaks, just consider me a looser.)

Have a long weekend,


Not-That-Crappy Jobs I’ve Had: Pharma Sales Rep

Not-That-Crappy Jobs I’ve Had: Pharma Sales Rep

How time flies – it’s been over six months since my last crappy/not-that-crappy jobs bit.  Probably because I’m so inactive that the concept of “occupation” never really hits my stream of consciousness.  As good a time as any to get back into it.

Back in 1999, I was a confused lad who was certain about only one thing regarding my future: I was getting the fuck out of the Navy.  Being an officer on a submarine was kind of like spending a long weekend with the Marquis de Sade – painful, seemingly unending and, ultimately, scarring.  But what to do after finally pushing away from the teat of the military?  Back then, as now, I was a smidge on the lazy side, so I hadn’t taken the GMAT or thought seriously about going to business school.  I was going to have to get a job of some sort.  Step one was signing up with one of the military headhunters and going to an ex-military job fair.  That didn’t sound all that appealling, honestly, but my dream of becoming a professional blackjack player seemed too farfetched given the negative expected value of the game, my lack of starting capital, and my propensity to drink heavily.  So job fair it was.

Having spent the previous ten years in the Navy, I didn’t really have a firm grasp of the “real world.”  I was aware that many of the vocations available to me would be co-ed; there weren’t any women in the submarine force (cue the ghey jokes, bonus points for teasing with Chelsea gym jokes).  Would I be able to get along with female colleagues?  Was yelling F-bombs frowned upon?  There was a lot for me to learn.

My job requirements were minimal: I wanted to make a lot of money and have a lot freedom.  These important criteria in mind, I went down to San Diego for a few days for the career fair thingee, crashing at my old roommate’s place.  Over the course of the 3-4 days I was there, I noticed that my friend’s wife pretty much set her own schedule, didn’t seem to work more than three hours a day, and supposedly made fat bank.  It turns out she was a sales rep for some European drug company.  I was intrigued.  But what did a pharma rep actually do, anyway?

It turns out, not much.  The job of a pharma rep has evolved a bit over the last decade, but in a nutshell reps simply try to get five minutes of “alone time” with doctors, generally by buying lunch for the entire doctor’s office.  If the rep scores those five minutes with a doctor, he/she is supposed to discuss the many scientific benefits of his/her various products by using glossy brochures and embossed pens and notepads.  Reps also give doctors samples of their drugs (kind of like how the street crews in The Wire would sometimes give out free yellow caps).  You’ve all seen pharma sales reps if you’ve ever been to a doctor’s office, they are the somewhat dressed-up folks with nametags loitering in the office for hours on end and dragging around large bags of propoganda/samples.

This sounded like a solid situation to me – run your own schedule, unsupervised, while mainly shooting the shit with people and buying lunches with a fat-ass expense account.  A few obstacles in my path: the fact that 85% of pharma reps are hot chicks, no logical leap from driving submarines to hyping Cox-2 inhibitors, my inability to tie a tie.  However, the late 90s saw a massive boom in pharma rep hiring, and someone at Pfizer or somewhere decided hiring ex-military officers was a brilliant idea because of the can-do attitudes, tireless work ethics, attention to detail, blah, blah.  (White guys with short haircuts: benefiting from stereotypes for years.  Well, except for skinheads – they are generally understood to be dicks.)

I managed to score a couple interviews based on my stellar military experience (very likely the least decorated officer since Viet Nam) and scored a couple offers from two of the largest firms.  One was to work in beautiful Monterey, California for a base of I think $40k plus car, quarterly bonus, etc.  The other offer was for $42k plus the extras and then a few hundred shares of stock up front (with vesting requirements).  This job was in Fresno, California.  (For those unfamiliar with the layout of California, Fresno is generally considered the rectum of the state.)  I chose the Fresno gig – that’s two large extra, motherfucker.  Hook me up with that pimped out maroon Ford Taurus and let’s get the show on the road.

Disclaimer:  My conduct as a pharma rep will likely cause you to lose the five remaining morsels of respect you have for me.  There’s no way around it though, if I’m to properly reflect the unbelievable nature of the job back in the late 90s.  Regulations have become much, much stricter, apparently – and for good reason.  I don’t think one can as easily take a couple of d-bag orthopedic surgeons to Spyglass Hill for $450 rounds of golf these days.  (Back then one could hide behind the guise of buying gift certificates for a large group of doctors; for example you could claim you gave out 30 $30 gift certificates to a big clinic.  Like a single $30 gift certificate to Pebble Beach is helpful.  It was all in how you did the paperwork.)

Part II is coming tomorrow.

Additional Complaint:  Allow me to present today’s entire weather forecast for NYC from the New York Times website: “blizzard.”  That’s it, just “blizzard.”  That sounds shitty.  It’s like that recent postgame interview with Hedo Turkoglu where the announcer asked how he’d had such a great game and he responded only “ball.”

I’ll be back with the rest of this shizz tomorrow, stay warm,

Chilly17, wasted potential