Something Stinks…About This GlaxoSmithKline Ad

Coco Chanel has often been quoted as saying, “A women who doesn’t wear perfume has no future.” If perfume staves off doom, perhaps that’s what inspired this otherwise-inexplicable new ad by GlaxoSmithKline for its HPV vaccine:

As you can see, it leads with a blue-eyed, fair-skinned, made-up–and apparently affluent–young woman lounging on an antique sofa on the first floor of her mansion. But softly shimmering lights and fairy-like chimes distract the waif from her book. She dreamily follows the golden twinkling lights up an impressive staircase, where she gazes with a beatific smile upon a champagne-colored perfume bottle magically floating in mid-air. But as the bottle rotates to reveal the words “CERVICAL CANCER”,  the young woman’s expression switches from bliss to frowning concern. Enter a narrative voice:

Maybe it’s unfair to get your attention this way, but nothing’s fair about cervical cancer. Every 47 minutes, another woman in the U.S. is diagnosed. But, there are ways to prevent it. Talk to your doctor.

“Unfair”? I would have said “insulting.” As in: Maybe it’s insulting to assume that the best way to attract a young woman’s attention to a serious health issue is to dupe her into thinking she’s watching a perfume commercial? But if you want to talk “unfair” … Maybe it’s unfair that there hasn’t been a public health campaign to educate young women and young men about sexually-transmitted HPV (human papillomavirus), which can cause not only cervical cancer but also other serious cancers in men and women? Maybe it’s unfair that the only public “education” about the HPV epidemic has come in the form of pharmaceutical ads that continue to narrowly brand and market HPV vaccines as “cervical cancer vaccines”?

The ad finishes by presenting a GlaxoSmithKline’s website–which troubles me, as a sexual health researcher, because it does not offer visitors a comprehensive HPV education. But that may have been too much to hope for, given that their HPV vaccine Cervarix received FDA approval for use in girls and women (ages 9 to 26) just this past October.

So, skip this ad and website if you’re looking for a more neutral source of information about HPV vaccine options, and visit the CDC instead. And those who’d like a thorough STD/STI education should check out the American Social Health Association and other website resources which are not funded by pharmaceutical companies.

For more on the mis-marketing of HPV vaccines, read my article, “Why Men’s Health is a Feminist Issue,” in the Winter issue of Ms., on newsstands now.


  1. In case any of you are wondering if you can post a response or add a comment to this video, you cannot: “Adding comments has been disabled for this video.” But, you can contact GlaxoSmithKline through their website at

  2. I agree that the CDC is a much better place to start than a GlaxoSmithKline Ad. Worse than making it look like a perfume ad (and arguably not as bad as the Gardasil ads, marketed directly to preteen girls) is the fact that there are serious side effects from this vaccine. And that the vaccine protects against only certain strains of HPV, very few of which will actually lead to cancer. So, read up about this on the CDC. But, also be an educated consumer. Just because there is a vaccine for something, doesn’t make that vaccine necessary.

    And, by the way, they are also starting to market Gardasil to boys. It has been approved. Again, just because something is approved, doesn’t make it necessary to one’s overall good health.

  3. I saw this commercial for the first time today and I went “wha???” The woman in the commercial looked confused to me rather than exhibiting “frowning concern” when she saw that the perfume bottle had the words “cervical cancer” printed on it. Talk about a bad bait and switch!

    Plus, it’s insulting for a Big Pharma company to insist that women don’t pay attention to their own sexual health. I’d rather get information about cervical cancer from NIH or the CDC than a pharmaceutical company pushing its latest product.

  4. I enjoyed both this article and the article “Why Men’s Health is a Feminist Issue”. I live in Australia and study at the university where Dr Ian Frazer is based, I have heard him speak and I have met him. His own children (sons) have been vaccinated and he appears to truly believe in the merits of his vaccine for men and women. This is a very brief interview but I think it clearly outlines the value of the vaccine and its application for men:
    Alternatively, similar information was presented in a far more casual way in a segment on men and the Gardasil vaccine aired on a current affairs type program. It contains course language but is very simple explanation of the benefits of Gardasil.

  5. When I saw this commercial for the first time, I said to my boyfriend about half-way through it: “I love commercials like this.” Then we simultaneously gasped when we realized we’d been duped! So, at the least it was effective at grabbing MY attention.

    With regard to some of the other comments — I’d hazard to guess that not many of us (commenters included) are on the CDC’s mailing list, so commercials put out by pharmaceutical companies are the only way that many women get info about things of this nature.

    And I encourage everybody to read Ms. Nack’s article — it isn’t anti-big pharma. Rather, it advocates the WIDER marketing of vaccines like these precisely because people know SO little about HPV and are at SUCH high risk.

  6. One might expect the CDC to be “more neutral” about HPV vaccines than the manufacturers, but if it were truly neutral, those vaccines would never have been approved, and certainly not allowed to be marketed as cervical cancer vaccines!

  7. The CDC does not make vaccines. It can only make recommendations for the use of of vaccines ALREADY created and approved by the FDA. The FDA does not make vaccines. It only verifies the health claims and risks of vaccines ALREADY created. NEITHER of them have any say as to how a drug is marketed. It doesn’t have anything to do with neutrality. If you know a small-scale, socially responsible drug manufacturer who makes side-effect-free HPV vaccines, then you might want to send them their way! Otherwise we’re stuck with what we have. And as it is, I’d rather have a vaccine than HPV, or cervical cancer .

  8. Ms. Traywick, are you implying the FDA has no jurisdiction over misleading health claims? I beg to differ! Neither agency is anywhere near neutral on vaccines–how many vaccines have been rejected? HPV is roughly as dangerous as measles. Some die from measles, some develop cancers from persistent HPV infections, but the vast majority of people suffer no long-term ill effects from either. News flash, living things have immune systems. This planet being as toxic as it has become, immune systems do not work as well as they should, but they still function remarkably well, considering.

  9. It’d be great to see the amount of mockery this commercial could spur: golden vials that are suddenly labeled with the only the chemical ingredients in most cosmetics, the money made from the vaccine, “AP Calculus,” or “your taxes are due in less than a month!”

    While it’s insulting that the commercial assumes the way to woman’s brain is through shiny things, it also exposes how much of a sham your average shampoo or mascara commercial is. By critiquing the “fantasy” of sparkles and well appointed rooms, they are suggesting that they are the truth-tellers and not the message manipulators. Neat, nasty trick.

  10. Thanks for all comments, and please make sure to rate not only the ‘perfume’ ad but also their ‘front porch’ and ‘night out’ ads with the star-rating you feel they deserve.
    I wanted to clarify that I purposefully refer to the CDC as “more neutral” not “100% neutral.” As for the FDA, I understand that individuals may or may not agree with its standards for safety and efficacy when deciding on vaccine approvals. As I noted in my previous post, I am not pro- or anti-vaccine. Every individual deserves to know the truth about the costs and benefits of any vaccine so that s/he can make an informed decision. I agree that this level of information is not always easy to come by. [When it comes to HPV, I recommend the book The HPV Vaccine Controversy by Dr. Shobha Krishnan.] A comprehensive public health campaign about HPV would best serve all of our needs, whether or not we choose/can afford/have access to vaccinination. In the meantime, can we join forces to let pharmaceutical companies know we’re sick of trickery and scare tactics?

  11. In response to Beth’s comments above: “And that the vaccine protects against only certain strains of HPV, very few of which will actually lead to cancer.” Both HPV vaccines on the market protect against HPV strains 16 and 18, which account for 70% of cervical cancers worldwide. And I would like to know what “serious side effects” she is talking about. The most common side effect is pain, redness, and swelling at the injection site.

  12. Perhaps Cervarix and Gardasil, like any vaccine, are tolerated reasonably well by most of their recipients, but there are significant numbers of exceptions. One site documenting serious adverse reactions to Gardasil is

  13. Thank you Adina! I saw this commercial one night and was extremely insulted. Not all women are captivated by glitter and perfume!

  14. I expect no better from the company that manufactures and markets Imatrex.

  15. In response to Sarah: ALS. For this reason, a pediatric neurologist on staff at a major Massachusetts hospital told a friend that he would not allow his daughter to have this vaccine. (A friend spoke to him when seeing him for her daughter’s unrelated issue.) I had never heard of ALS being associated with Gardasil, but do take seriously when a doctor says he has seen an unusual number of cases of ALS in young women under the age that people normally get ALS.

    Also, see: There, you will see discussions of serious reactions that occurred to six girls. To me, even if most girls just “pass out” (a symptom you didn’t mention, but which a pediatrician-friend has seen from many of the girls whom she vaccinates) or have “redness” at the injection site, it’s not worth it for my daughter to have one of the rare, very serious reactions.

    If something changes in the next five years and the vaccine no longer has any of these reports, again, however rare, I would consider it. (Though, another problem is that efficacy may be for only five years. If a girl gets this vaccine at age 9 or 10, it might wear off before she is actually sexually active, leaving her at risk for HPV.)

  16. I have a friend who got cervical cancer because of HPV. right now she is under going chemotherapy and some anti-cancer drugs. . :

  17. Hey blogger, thnx for delivering this important article! I found it great. May god bless you, !!

  18. Appreciate it. This is a great read.

  19. While feminists have made abortion the “holly grail” it truly is easy access to birth control that gives women control over their lives. Having Doctors control your access to birth control by demanding that you have a PAP Smear is so degrading. Doctors treat women like ninnies, like they do not have the sense to take care of their own bodies. Women should have full, free access to birth control on their own terms. I believe that birth control should be available without a prescription with whatever advice women should choose to seek from a pharmacy.

  20. Jean Epp says:

    Speaking of an ad that ‘stinks.’ Even though grandmothers hold the world together, you continue to scapegoat them in that ad making them the evil wolf. It’s weak of you.


  1. […] polémica en la red está servida. Unos tildan la campaña de sexista y poco educativa, mientras que otros la defienden por su capacidad de […]

Speak Your Mind


Error, no Ad ID set! Check your syntax!