Thinking Critically - MediFacts more marketing than fact

Perhaps at no time is critical thinking more important than when consuming advertising.

For me, anything health care related immediately raises red flags. Most recently an ad for the laxative Dulcolax resurfaced. I don’t particularly have anything against the product. The active ingredient is bisacodyl, a stimulant laxative that is commonly used in preparation for certain medical procedures such as colonoscopies.

What I object to is the way in which it is advertised, specifically the tagline at the end of the commercial: “This has been MediFacts for Dulcolax.”

The inference is that “MediFacts” is some kind of independent, perhaps even journalistic, consumer advocacy organization.

It is not. It is a trademarked advertising platform of the Australian-based advertising firm Buchanan Group, which has also given us Brand Power and a dozen other advertising vehicles.

The company’s intention of creating arm’s length credibility for its clients is evident in its own marketing.

“As the pioneers of third party advertising, we create unique, identifiable advertising platforms backed by compelling intellectual property and data-driven insights to drive purchase behaviour.”

It is undoubtedly effective, and with a product such as Dulcolax, maybe not such a big deal. Most people at some point or another suffer from constipation and bisacodyl is a proven remedy.

MediFacts is also connected to some really sketchy products, however. In Canada, Buchanan is promoting a product called Balanse, which claims to “maintain digestive balance” by boosting the levels of proboitics, the so-called “good bacteria,” in the human GI tract. I have written at length about the fad of probiotics and why yogurts and probiotic supplements are solutions looking for a problem that doesn’t exist. Suffice it to say, it is one of those marketing scams that takes a modicum of truth, that our guts are filled with helpful bacteria, and conflates it with a non-existent benefit of an unproven nature.

I’m not going to get into all the evidence here, but if you are interested, look up Dr. Mark Crislip’s excellent article at www.sciencebasedmedicine.org/probiotics for a complete debunking.

To give credit where credit is due, it is a brilliant approach. These ads are not flashy. On the contrary, they are purposefully bland to give the appearance of “just the facts, ma’am.”

Make no mistake though, the “facts” in these commercials are unchallenged claims of the advertiser, just as they are in every other type of advertising out there.

Chris Phyland, Buchanan Group CEO. summed it up perfectly.

“For years, Brand Power has been helping Canadians buy better by telling them new product stories from the manufacturer’s perspective,” he said.

“New product stories from the manufacturer’s perspective.” Hardly objective and how exactly does that help people buy better?

In some cases, it maybe it does, in other cases, not so much. The bottom line is, as with all advertising, buyer beware.

Zero gravity day, oh my

I could not let the first Facebook hoax of 2015 go without dishonourable mention because it was a scientific doozy. Early in the New Year, a post, ostensibly from NASA, started making the rounds:  “January 4th, 9:47 AM PST, the long-awaited planetary alignment will cause a gravitational fluctuation that will leave you weightless for a short period of time #beready.”

On its face this is absurd. Jupiter is a giant planet, but it is a very very long way away. Its gravitational effect on humans has been calculated to be about the same as that of a compact car from approximately a metre away. Pluto’s pull is about the same as a marble at 100 metres. Even combined times 1,000, would have no discernable impact.

When this hoax was first invented as an April Fool’s joke by British astronomer Patrick Moore in 1976 and broadcast on BBC radio, hundreds of people called in claiming to have felt the effect.

By the number of people who liked and shared the latest incarnation—it also made the rounds last year—we haven’t gotten any smarter since ’76.

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