Don’t Do It (But First, a Word From Our Sponsors)

April 16, 2010 at 10:04 am 2 comments

This was at the bottom, but given the nature of the post and how some, maybe you, might have found this, I thought it was worth putting first.

There are options out there. Some problems can be left behind with a bus ticket, a breakup, a new job — some  not so easily. Some have to be faced head on but there are options. Those options — while safe and effective — don’t have the power of industry behind them. That’s okay though. If you are on the edge of an irreversible decision, you don’t need industry or Adsense. You sure as hell don’t need to be anybody’s demographic, consumer or marketing opportunity. If suicide seems like a viable option, you’ve probably lost perspective. You may not be seeing your problems from every angle. Enlist the help of a friend — if you are afraid a friend will mess things up further, enlist the help of a stranger. Someone out there would be genuinely concerned about you in particular and what you’re dealing with if they only knew. This is just one option: National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-8255)

We’re all familiar with common internet marketing approaches like keyword generated ads and sponsored links on some of our favorite search engines. You can’t really complain when you can breeze through a million interests, look up old friends, find jobs, maybe even stumble upon a ranting impassioned weblog — endlessly, quickly and for free. They have to pay the bills somehow. I expect to see ads in the margins of the page and sponsored links do make sense — sometimes. Sure, If I’m looking for a new car, a tv or a pair of jeans, I expect to see sponsored links from the major makers but what happens when you’re not looking for a product at all?

Immediately after the earthquake in Haiti, I was watching a video clip (from some news outlet or another) of a man pleading for help in finding his missing daughter. He got about four words in before a video pop-up ad…well, popped up. The volume of the ad made it so you couldn’t hear the clip and the smiling, bouncing figures stood right in front of the footage of this pleading, crying father. The ad was for tourism in tropical Saint Lucia. The juxtaposition was glaring and it was as if they were saying, “Is Haiti getting a little corpsey? Come visit bright, sunny and still intact Saint Lucia!” It was a clear case of keyword generated ads gone wrong and I’m sure no one actually thought it would be a good idea to tastelessly suggest other vacationing ideas in light of Haiti’s disaster — or am I?

When you enter the word “sadness” in your Google search bar — which one could conceivably do for any number of reasons — you’ll get a few definitions from the likely sources like Webster’s and Wikipedia and  some fairly random entries for which “sadness” is a keyword but only after a word from your concerned friends in pharma. How strange that you can search for an emotion and get search results for a drug. Remember when drugs were for diseases? Yesterday, the search brought up three ads in the form of sponsored links for Cymbalta, Lexapro and Seroquel (today, only Seroquel). Of course they don’t say they’re for drugs in the links. They merely offer information. Two of them had some misleading heading about symptoms and treatment options for bipolar disorder or depression which of course didn’t lead to any objective information, just sales pitches with as much credibility as the new tv gimmicks on fast weight loss. (You know, the ones with the diagrams and the digital people eating pills and getting smaller.) While I think most major corporations tend to act without conscience, it has to be said — they’re not in the conscience business.If they’re going to crop up in every search that’s even tangentially related to their product, what can you say? They should at least present themselves as purveyors of psych drugs instead of answers.

The worse example, in my opinion, comes up when you search “suicide.”Google has added the number for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-8255) to certain search result pages based on keywords like “suicide.” They’ve gotten mixed press for intruding on their searches but, by and large, a lot of people think it’s the good and responsible thing and no one is more impressed by them than they are themselves.

What I want to know is why the lifeline comes up second. The first entry is secured by Eli Lilly (presumably at a premium) with the headline “Symptoms of Depression” which of course takes you to an ad page for their antidepressant, Cymbalta. The implication is that if you are searching out of interest in suicide, you’re their target market. There are a number of reasons to search for suicide — statistics, synonyms, history, legal issues but those are not markers that make Lilly think they can sell you something. If you want to kill yourself, however, they have a product for you. It’s pretty shameless  and the last thing someone needs if they are reaching out is someone reaching back with an ad, much less a life on drugs. Never mind the fact that suicide is a side effect for their antidepressants. Sure, some will say the drugs are people’s last hope, but that’s debatable at best and let’s be honest — Eli Lilly isn’t a do-gooder group trying to ease troubled minds. They’re a business trying to move massive amounts of their product for as much money as possible and they have no intentions of letting class, tact or taste  (or even law, effectiveness and patient deaths, but that’s another story) get in the way. This is typical of pharma in general and Lilly in particular, so not too out of character.

If Google is so concerned, they should have the number come up first — before they help anybody sell a product. That, however, conflicts with the notion that the sponsor is always first. I can’t imagine what Eli Lilly and the rest pay for sponsorship but I’m sure it’s an obscenely high number and for that price, you don’t take second place to anything — even suicide prevention. It’s a sadly predictable sign of the state of things when an increase in suicides or coverage of suicides is seen as a marketing opportunity.

I mentioned these meager findings on a social networking site and within five minutes, someone — a stranger, really — mistook my interest for need and sent this simple message, “It sounds like you’re feeling a little down and want to talk.” If more people put themselves out there, quickly and sincerely and with nothing to gain, things would be headed in a different direction. We can talk about alternative mental health, corruption in pharma, government and NAMI, abusive and misguided systems but it’s not enough to complain about the state of things — or even to fight it. We have to be the alternative — and not just for ourselves.


Entry filed under: Action, Options, Pharma, Uncategorized. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , .

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  • 1. KHorn  |  April 19, 2010 at 11:05 pm

    I’m not getting the Eli Lily ad. I searched for suicide, and I got the suicide hotline above the search results, and ads in the sidebar. The first search result I’m seeing is wikipedia, but even in the side bar I’m not seeing Eli Lily. My top ads seem to be treatment facilities for teens. Makes me wonder if your ads results are being influenced by previous searches as well as your current one. You spend a lot of time looking up information on antidepressants and I spend a lot of time looking up information on teens and education. I think our search histories may be poisoning our little experiment here.

  • 2. abellve  |  April 20, 2010 at 12:30 pm

    That makes sense. Interesting and I somehow hadn’t thought of that — perhaps because I reset my cache and history fairly often but of course that doesn’t say much. Still, results may vary but the fact remains that companies see suicidal individuals as a market and Google is all to happy to oblige by putting its corporate interests. I’m not saying it means they don’t care at all or they’re throwing people to the wolves — just an observation of priorities. We’re all responsible for our own action/inaction and reading past the first line.


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