Friday, June 27, 2008

Battered Woman Imagery in Pfizer's New Fibromyalgia Ad

Pfizer has recently upped the stakes in its campaign to depict fibromyalgia as a "real" medical condition.

In an non-branded "disease awareness" TV ad that I saw last night, this point was hammered home by images of a woman showing black and blue bruises over her body. She says something like "Maybe if people saw me this way, they will believe that fibromyalgia is a real medical condition."

What I saw were disturbing images reminiscent of battered woman syndrome. The whole thing smacked of desperation on Pfizer's part to sell more drugs and represents DTC advertising sinking to a new low in exploiting women's fears!

I was not able to capture an image of the woman from my TV, so I am using the image above left that I found at the Medical Advocates/Battered Women web site. It accurately conveys the message that Pfizer put on the screen. (If you can get an actual screen shot of the ad, please send it to me at

The ad urges viewers to visit the FibroCenter Web site where they can find information about a treatment option; ie, Lyrica, Pfizer's drug approved for the treatment of fibromyalgia.

Perhaps Pfizer is getting desperate to sell more Lyrica in the face of criticisms that fibromyalgia is not a real medical condition. The cartoon on the right from the Dry Bones Blog is a case in point.

Adverse Event Reporting Be Damned! Tell Us Your Story!

Meanwhile, if you visit the FibroCenter Web site you may be surprised to find that Pfizer is soliciting stories from patients (note: the same form can be accessed from the site):

"Are you living with fibromyalgia? Would you be willing to share your story with others, so that they may learn from your experience? If so, please answer a few short questions to get started ..." (see here).

There are several multiple choice questions, but what shocks me is the box for an open-ended response with the instruction: "Please use this space to share your story about living with fibromyalgia. Please limit your story to 3000 characters or less. (Approximately 500 words.)"


What an opportunity to collect ADVERSE EVENTS, which Pfizer must then submit to the FDA. I always thought -- and pharma people have always said -- that one of the reasons the industry is shunning Web 2.0 social network sites is the possibility that they would then have to report a slew of adverse events to the FDA. And who wants that? But here is Pfizer doing just that! If nothing else, this can be used as a case study to counteract the main argument pharma has used against social media engagement.

Pfizer also collects personal information that will uniquely identify people who "tell their stories": "In case it is selected for publishing on the site, we will need to collect your name, city, state, phone number, as well as your e-mail address so that we may notify you. By submitting your information, you agree that it will be governed by the Consent and Release statement below."

The consent form also admits that Pfizer is collecting personal medical information: "I grant my consent to use my name, biographical data and relevant medical history by Pfizer Inc in any Permitted Use identified below."

Pfizer, of course, hopes to collect contact information about patients so they can send them information about LYRICA (it says it will do that in the consent form). But it may be collecting more than it bargained for.

For example, Pfizer may collect stories such as the following, which I found in one of the first comments to the Dry Bones blog post I cited above:
"Having put up with Fibro since I was 25 (18 years ago)- I can tell you it exists. I loved the toon! I won't be taking Lyrica though, I keep it under control through weight control, light exercise and relying on G-d, "for man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from His mouth."
OK, "G_d" may not be Lyrica's #1 competitor, but life style changes may be. However, you won't find THAT option in the main menu at the FibroCenter Web site -- "A Community of Education, Support and Understanding for People With Fibromyalgia." You'll have to dig deeper.


  1. Anonymous7:29 AM

    This was a very interesting read. It certainly opened my eyes. I shall be checking this out because I have never heard of the condition before and would like to know more. Thank you

  2. Anonymous11:42 AM

    Thanks a lot for a fine read. Keep up the good work!

  3. Anonymous5:52 AM

    Back in 2005 Roch did a similar advertising campaign regarding Hepatitis C. Showing the face of a man all beat up, like a boxer. Stating, If this is what your liver looked like you would seek help. Those of us living with HCV were very appalled by this as was The American Liver Foundation.

    HCV is not in the lime light, is suffering from lack of awareness but over 5 million Americans have it and 3/4 don't know it. It kills more people then AIDS and is responsible for 80% of all liver transplants.

  4. Anonymous2:15 PM

    I had just read your blog this morning, when I came across two ads from Pfizer in this week's JAMA. The first is titled "Fibromyalgia: "Neurotic" or Neurologic" and shows "an image of pain amplification" on fMRI, while the second, about 15 pages further in to the journal, was titled "Celebrating 1 year of helping you manage your fibromyalgia patients... and committed to continuing," which shows a smiling physician wearing an oversized button saying "Committed to Helping Patients With Fibromyalgia." Interesting?

  5. Cat,

    I'd like to see those Pfizer ads -- I am interested in analyzing physician ads but do not have access to the journals. Perhaps you -- and others -- can help by mailing a few ads to me: John Mack, PO Box 760, Newtown, PA 18940.


  6. Anonymous3:27 AM


    good post.

  7. Anonymous4:43 PM

    I have fibromyalgia and this picture shows exactly how most of us feel. Fibromyalgia feels like our who body is bruised. You know when you have a bruise, the tender feeling when its touched? That is EXACTLY how I have tried to describe part of my pain for years to people. We also deal with wide spread muscle pain, as well as the tender tissue, which feels like a bruise.

    I am not taking up for Pfizer, as Lyrica didn't help me personally, but the awareness, they are showing, is so real to those of us who have fibromyalgia, and many people, just don't understand, or get it..

  8. Anonymous5:16 PM

    I saw the TV ad last night and wouldn't have made the battered women's connection if I hadn't read your interesting blog.

    After reading the comments from women suffering from Fibro, and knowing someone who has it -- would like to suggest that you continue to cover the apparent ineffectiveness of Lyrica, rather than question the validity of Fibro as a real medical condition.
    -- Mary

  9. Anonymous10:29 AM

    I have to agree with Mary's comment. The real story behind Lyrica is how ineffective it is. Most people who have used it had no improvement or minimal improvement. Just about everyone has had to deal with serious side effect issues, many had bad enough side effects that it negated any improvement from the drug. Lyrica is not the miracle drug Pfizer says it is.

  10. Anonymous11:25 AM

    Maybe if you HAD fibromyalgia, you would understand the imagery.

  11. Anonymous9:35 PM


    Couldn't you go to any major university library especially one with a medical/dental/nursing school and find kind ALL kinds of journals and make copies of ads. Many hospital libraries offer the same

  12. Anonymous7:08 PM

    As someone who was diagnosed with fibro in 1989, I can sure identify with the photo, because that's how you feel most of the time!.... haven't tried Lyrica, as most of the fibro websites told us about the side effects etc. I'm not a fan of big pharma, but am glad to see anything that advocates for us folks with fibo.... got tired of all those doctors telling us for years that "it was all in our heads"

  13. Anonymous10:01 PM

    I have had fibromyalgaia for 15 yrs. I have things IMPLANTED IN MY BODY by Doctors saying they have the miracle cure.They have moved on, while I am left to find a doctor who is familiar with the Device put in me. I am completely bedridden at this point and I can say that though my condition is still one of daily home health aids, no outings, etc. I can say that Lyrica has changed my life! How? My pain has eased up to the point hat I can smile at a joke, read my Bible for a short time again. Pray and smile when I wake up. LYRICA has given me a start and a hope. I sleep more without waking in pain. My pain med`s. have gone down which is a great releif as I am sick and tired of pharmacists, Doctors, the VERY PEOPLE WHO TOOK AN OATH TO HELP THE SUFFERING, label me as a drug seeker, which I assure I have taken great pains NOT to do. Never the less. Phizer is NOT exploiting "battered women". Gay people feel better now that YOU are out of the closet! You feel understood, accepted, not afraid to talk about who you are. I find it hypocritical that because NOW this certain population, marched, protested, etc and got the world to accept their lifestyle or malady, (whichever you see it).
    Persons with fibromyalgia CANNOT MARCH, PUT ON DISPLAY`S OF PROTEST. WHY? THEY ARE TOO SICK. What a novel thought.
    Most of us have been battered a lifetime and courageously hid it from the world while working, raising children, etc. The body can only take so much and I applaud Pfizer for attempting to show how it is to live in a body that indeed feels "BATTERED?|" (the batterer may be gone, the woman may never have been battered, the point is: THIS DISEASE LEAVES YOU BATTERED WITH NO SIGNS OF BRUISES ETC. with a disease most don`t have or have the compassion to try to see what is going on in the bodies of these people.
    Than you Pfizer, you have helped many more people than you know.

  14. Anonymous12:00 PM

    I have had FMS for over 6 years and have never had a black eye from it!

    It would have been more acurate to show a woman with bruises on her arms and legs from bumping into things, as I always seem to do, like a magnet we are drawn to objects and end up bruised from the arms down!

    I agree with leaning on God and lifestyle changes BUT when there is any added stress to your life, it makes things worse, for me an added member of the family that is very defiant.

  15. I agree with the many who say that this is an accurate depiction of how one feels with fibromyalgia, bruised and battered, definitely; bringing attention to something that is widely misunderstood is something I have to take my hat off to, especially when that something is something myself and family deal with on a daily basis. No one here is saying that battered woman don't deserve attention and help, that is not even up for debate.
    My fear is not whether or not someone is going to batter me today, although for all too many that is a harsh reality, my fear is that fibromyalgia and the many other chronic pain diseases and syndromes that exist will not get the attention and respect they deserve. At the end of the day, the only person who truly feels desperate here is not the pharmaceutical company but the person who has lost their life to pain.
    "Maybe if people saw me this way, they will believe that fibromyalgia is a real medical condition." I think that truly defines how so many of us feel, and I just have to say, it can't be a bad thing to give some attention where attention is needed.

    Thanks for bringing up an important topic!

    (Please make no mistake, I am a firm believer that an abused or battered woman is just as worthy of notice and help!)

  16. Anonymous1:24 AM

    Fibromyalgia, like abuse, isn't pretty to look at. It's very real though. Of course Pfizer's motivation is money, but I'm less concerned with their motivation given that they are bringing some awareness to this disease that many of us have suffered through, alone, for many years. And while Lyrica isn't the end-all, it does keep me vertical most days. People want to believe fibromyalgia doesn't exist - it's just a bunch of loonies looking for attention. As I recall, it wasn't long ago that the same was said on the subject of battered women.


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