Public Service Ads That Sell

New Advertising Trend: Fake “Public Service” Ads / Center for Media and Democracy
May 14, 2009

Consumer Reports’ AdWatch video for Chantix:
Source: Consumer Reports/, February 17, 2009

Pfizer has produced a great example of stealth advertising with its commercial promoting a Web site called The ad has the look and feel of a public service announcement, and mentions neither Pfizer, nor the popular smoking cessation drug it promotes — Chantix (varenicline). The ad represents a growing trend in drug advertising called “help-seeking ads,” which don’t mention a drug by name, but instead address the condition the drug is meant to treat, and then drive viewers to a toll-free 800 number or a Web site that offers an option to learn more about a prescription drug meant to treat the condition. It is a sneaky, but legal way to advertise drugs that have particularly bad side effects, since avoiding mentioning the drug by name lets the company off the hook for listing its bad side effects in the ad, too, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) rules. Chantix has some serious side effects, according to an alert the agency issued on Chantix, including “serious neuropsychiatric symptoms,” like changes in behavior, depressed mood, suicidal ideation and completed suicide.