Monetising Fear

I have worked in marketing for over 30 years. I know the monster that I, and other marketers, have created. The monster is called FUD: fear, uncertainty and doubt.

To come to my own defence, I’ve only ever worked in the business-to-business end of marketing. It’s trickier to instil fear, uncertainty and doubt into a hard-bitten business decision-maker than Joe Public.  But we try anyway.  But the assault on the buying public, coercing them to take drugs they almost certainly don’t need, has been going on for years. And this has especially been the case in the so-called “developed world”. 

In the United States pharmaceutical companies dominate television advertising. If you’ve visited America (prior to 2020, when you were allowed to) and flicked on the television, you’ll have been bombarded with adverts for every kind of weird and not-so-wonderful drug.  The Americans are among the most medicated people in the world spending, per capita, twice the OECD average on legal drugs. And this expenditure doesn’t do the nation many favours. America is one of the world’s most addicted nations in terms of prescription and illegal drugs. 

Some 75% of TV advertising expenditure in the United States is by drug companies.  In 2020, pharma companies spent a vast $6.58 billion on advertising (source Kantar Media). It was a bumper year because of Covid – with the majority of Americans seeking out remedies for other chronic health conditions – such as asthma and diabetes. America’s a fat nation of addicts, making it fertile ground for drug peddlers offering spurious remedies for morbidities, co-morbidities and Covid. 

Covid, however, has been a Godsend for the FUD-merchants. Now we have visual FUD: masks, social distancing signage, and government-paid-for advertising to encourage the take-up of big pharma’s latest ruse: Covid vaxes.  America, in addition to its other endemic public health afflictions (with associated pharmacology) has a bit of a problem with asthma. Some 25 million American’s suffer with it. And yet the government’s solution to mitigate Covid risk is to mandate the wearing of masks. Although this, no doubt, helps with the sales of asthma medication and inhalers. Indeed, the global asthma drugs market size is predicted to surpass around $37.3 bn by 2030 from $20.6 bn in 2020, growing at an annual rate of 5.2% from 2021 to 2030 (Source: Precedence Research).  Handy that. 

And then, of course, there’s the lobbying. It takes work to put the FUD-words into the mouths of the politicians. But mostly they handily oblige. According to this report, “From 1999 to 2018, the pharmaceutical and health product industry recorded $4.7 billion—an average of $233 million per year—in lobbying expenditures at the federal level, more than any other industry.”  It continued, “The industry spent $414 million on contributions to candidates in presidential and congressional elections, national party committees, and outside spending groups. Of this amount, $22 million went to presidential candidates and $214 million went to congressional candidates.”

We can only surmise the levels of spending in other jurisdictions.  And, of course, it’s not merely direct lobbying that provides the words for policies, legislation and politician virtue signalling – it’s also the NGOs that are effectively in the pockets of the drug companies. And many of the drug companies are in the pockets of the NGOs – with Gates Foundation and Wellcome Trust investing heavily in “innovative” pharmaceutical companies making drugs to treat, you-know, Covid and things. 

The extent of public ignorance of the manipulation that’s going on is simply staggering. In the past many of us, myself included, were of the view that Americans were clearly being manipulated. In the land of the free, we concluded, why not let them eat whatever cake was being peddled. It didn’t affect us.

But now it is. Because the same (or same different) pharma companies are now peddling their wares in new ways with the support of bought governments that are mandating their garbage medicants.  But here’s a message for them. Go sell your crazy some place else. 

Fear and Government

There was outrage yesterday that Recovery’s campaign calling for an end to fear based advertising by the government had been banned by leading outdoor media companies on spurious grounds.

Today I had the chance to interview Jon Dobinson of Recovery and ask him about the campaign.

In the last year the government spent £184m on advertising which has fuelled unprecedented levels of fear. According to the mental health chaity, MIND, the country is in the middle of ‘a mental health pandemic’. However, giant media companies won’t allow criticism that may damage their lucrative Government advertising contracts.

JC Decaux, the world’s leading outdoor media company, refused to run Recovery’s posters on the grounds that the Code of Advertising Practice bans political advertising, This is completely untrue. Trafford Council – the owner of the sites Recovery booked near the BBC – also banned it as ‘political’ and refused further explanation.  The intention was to place posters near leading broadcasters including the BBC and Sky – but this has been prevented by the ban.   

Working with a smaller outdoor media company, Recovery has secured a site for the poster in central London and will also still show it at the BBC via an advertising van which will circle the site.

Recovery’s Campaign Poster Outside the BBC

Results of a new independent poll commissioned from market research experts Yonder by Recovery reveal that the Government’s campaign of fear has had a shocking impact on the mental health of the nation. 15% of respondents reported depression, anxiety, or fear as a direct result of Government pandemic advertising. That’s equivalent to over 8m people.  

A further 7% – the equivalent of over 3.6m people – report the advertising has made an existing mental health condition worse: that’s almost 12m people around the country whose mental health has been damaged by an unprecedented Government advertising campaign designed to create fear.

On Liberty and The Left

Capitol Hill

Prior to lockdown and the various paraphernalia of anti-freedom Covid laws, I’m not sure that Dr Naomi Wolf and I would have as readily agreed on so much. Covid response policies have brought together many from disparate ideologies who are united in our contempt for authoritarianism – and our belief that Covid is a handy excuse for squeezing the will out of the people by the government.

On the eve of the House of Commons vote to renew the Coronavirus Act it’s clear that MPs should be voting for or against the restoration of freedom – because this draconian legislation is one mighty large sledgehammer. The United Kingdom is moving inexorably towards a command economy.

We were promised by the government that when the vulnerable were vaccinated we’d have our liberty restored and that emergency legislation would be removed. But the end-game seems to be getting further and further away. Increasingly this seems to be less about a virus and more about a new way of life outside of normal democratic processes.

Naomi has been long associated with liberal politics and civil rights in the United States. Her latest venture is Daily Clout.

Having come from the left, she recognises that the so-called liberals are letting themselves down badly by not standing up for liberty and freedom, on either side of the Atlantic. I don’t agree with everything she has to say. And I’m more from the classical liberal tradition than a US-Democrat style liberal.

But her analysis is absolutely correct in terms of how easily administrations seem to have lapsed into the type of authoritarianism we only associate with China or other totalitarian regimes. We may not be quite there yet but it may not take too much longer unless we do something about it.

The conversation starts with a focus on her assertion that the UK’s lack of a bill of rights makes tyranny more possible. She then discusses the origins of the loss of liberty (with coronavirus as the excuse). And then she touches on how corporatism is potentially killing our salvation – capitalism. Finally, she provides some useful tips for protesters. Enjoy.