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 an otherwise-inexplicable new ad by GlaxoSmithKline for its HPV vaccine.

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 2010 issue of Ms.

Checkout more health care coverage from Ms. here