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The Rhinoceros in the Room - The LAMP

The Rhinoceros in the Room

By July 14, 2010 News No Comments

A number of companies seem to be spending their time and marketing budgets on damage control this summer. Both Toyota and BP have launched full fledged campaigns aimed at recovering public trust. Whether or not these new tools can save the images of these respective companies (though it seems a bit unlikely, particularly for the latter), only time will tell.

With so much awry and so much to watch out for –for it has also been a summer of recalls: cribs, cereal, pain killers, tuna cans, and yet more cars among the list—I somehow missed the news on Bayer’s legal troubles and was thereby perplexed by the TV spot in which the company defends itself against, it would seem, poorly educated consumers.

The TV spot is essentially two ads in one.

The second half features smart looking people in lab coats working diligently toward important medical advancements. It tells its targeted female audience that informed decisions about birth control are important, professes Bayer’s “unwavering commitment” to the “health and well being” of their patients, and suggests a website where women can go to get facts about choosing a method of contraception.

While the second half of the ad is relatively clear and to the point, the prelude is a puzzle. A group of women in blindfolds stand around a rhinoceros. Each woman puts her hands on a particular part of the rhino to guess what the object in front of her is. A leg is thought to be a pillar, the ear a brush, and so on. A voice-over informs us that it is never good to get just one point of view. The women remove their blindfolds and giggle at their mistakes.

It seems to me there are two metaphors at work: the one the voice over gives us and the one we actually experience in watching the ad. The voice over tells us that this is a lesson in not limiting one’s perspective and while that metaphor reads, these women aren’t just looking at an issue from one angle; they aren’t looking at all. But what’s it all about?

Here’s where I had to go dig up some information. Bayer manufactures Yaz, Yasmine and Ocella, three of the most widely used oral contraceptives in the U.S. While exact numbers are hard to come by, there were a reported 1,100 plus lawsuits filed in the U.S. and Canada regarding the severity of the side effects experienced by women prescribed to one of the above brands by mid-spring. The general theme of these claims is that while all birth control methods carry risks of side effects and Yaz and friends do carry warning labels, the serous risks of blood clots, strokes, heart attacks, and complications resulting from too much potassium are greater with Yaz, Yasmine and Ocella because of an ingredient unique to them, drospirenone, and that the company downplayed the seriousness and likelihood of these effects while overstating the potential benefits of the drugs.  It is important to note also that Yaz, by order of the FDA, released a commercial to try to correct the perceivable balance of benefits to risks in their advertisements last year.

I have neither the legal nor the medical expertise to say how these cases will or should pan out, but in order to take a serious look at the ad, we need to know what it is in response to. From the perspective of the Bayer Corporation, the ad advises women not to eliminate these brands of birth control from their list of options having heard only one side of the story. Fair enough.

However, because the whole ad seeks to evade the issue it alludes to, it never provides a meaningful alternative to rumors that their products are unsafe. Furthermore, the website it directs you to is administered by the parent company of those brands subject to these complaints—not exactly an objective source of information.

In the interest of media literacy, what matters more to me is the metaphor. Here a consumer who steers clear of these products based on the testimony of at least 1,100 of her peers is likened to woman who, literally, cannot tell a rope from a rhinoceros.

The voice implies that a woman armed only with the knowledge acquired from news sources that have covered the potential dangers of these drugs only sees part of the picture. Alright, but the scene playing out behind that voice-over suggests something else: The woman who does not trust their product is more than limited in her perspective; she is blind and not terribly bright. There is a big, strong, solid truth in the room that escapes her detection. If this campaign desires what it claims—informed consumers—it might do better not to begin with an insult to their intelligence.

–Sarah Brown