Madison Avenue vs. Truth in Advertising

As you might expect, Madison Avenue is the well-known moniker slapped on the ad business, because so many of them hung out there before all that hopeful conglomerating during the eighties and nineties. Euro-RSCG, as an example, is the swilling together of 233 offices in 75 countries. They claim to represent over 80% of the hundred largest advertisers on the planet. Whether or not that actually translates to better ads, it certainly narrows choice and broadens the horizons of profit.

The TV show, Mad Men, played on the word in either form; madness or Madison. These days there are but a few holdouts, including Young & Rubicam and Doyle Dane Bernbach. The ad business, like any other, is results oriented. Nothing wrong with that, but painting oil companies in environmental green and smiling doctor (models) pushing drugs with horrible side-effects is a bit of a stretch.

Dow Chemical Dissolves Its Old Image in Favor of ‘The Human Element’’

What an interesting corporate decision. ‘Reintroduce’ a hundred year-old company with great fanfare and a $20 million annual advertising budget, a sort of Dow dowry. That’s what chemical companies do best, dissolve one entity into another, introduce a catalyst1 and market the result.

The wonder is that Dow still calls itself a chemical company, instead of something like Dow Environmental Systems. The catalyst in this case is re-branding; turning company-inflicted human pain and suffering of monumental proportion into a perceived corporate regard for The Human Element. Alchemy at the public relations level. Wow. You mean they stopped manufacturing Napalm and Agent Orange? Finally called a halt to a corporate policy of poisoning people to save costs, contaminating air and ground-water and walking away from the consequence? Nope.

According to Dow public relations guru Fred Cook, CEO of GolinHarris,

While normally the ad agency is called in first, and then a PR firm is brought onboard, in this instance Dow Chemical contacted GolinHarris first, due to a change in thinking of how their campaigns are developed.”2

It was a public relations decision to re-brand the same old same old, as a new respect for humanity, The Human Element as PR, something Dow ad agency, Foote Cone and Belding could sink their teeth into and run with. Since Dow bought Union Carbide, it may well need a change in thinking about how campaigns are developed.

Union Carbide, before it was subsumed by Dow, was responsible for a continuing disaster in Bhopal, India, after it released 27,000 tons of MIC gas from a pesticide plant in 1984. MIC is not the first three letters of the Mickey Mouse Song, it’s a colorless, flammable liquid. Its dissemination in a toxic cloud between 10:30 PM December third and 6:00AM the following morning in Bhopal is described:

The acute symptoms were burning in the respiratory tract and eyes, blepharospasm, breathlessness, stomach pains and vomiting. The causes of deaths were choking, reflexogenic circulatory collapse and pulmonary edema. Findings during autopsies revealed changes not only in the lungs but also cerebral edema, tubular necrosis of the kidneys, fatty generation of the liver and necrotising enteritis. The stillbirth rate increased by up to 300% and neonatal mortality rate by 200 %.3

That disaster, almost entirely caused by cost-cutting and the lowered safety regulations allowed by off-shoring operations to India killed 8,000 locals almost immediately and another 10-20,000 have since died. An estimated 200,000 now have permanent injuries connected to the toxic gasses released. Union Carbide, since sold to Dow for $10.1 billion, settled the wreckage of that particular Human Element for $470 million (their insurance recovery, plus interest).

That was accepted as final monetary settlement and total absolution from all civil and criminal liability. Thus legally cleaned up and with no apparent moral issues on either side of the purchase, Dow swallowed Union Carbide like a morning-after pill and never looked back.

As a quick comparison, the Chernobyl nuclear reactor failure in Ukraine killed 56 as well as another 4,000 (estimated) from cancer-related causes.4 Chernobyl is the poster-child for screw-ups, along with the Exxon Valdez, which killed no one. Bhopal was a company caused disaster killing 500 times as many as Chernobyl, effectively swept under the legal rug that covers convenient loopholes in international laws.

The ad-men are at work as I write this, to shampoo and thoroughly clean the Dow carpet. A New Yorker of the time carried a double-page spread, showing runner’s feet splashing water and a lot of Dow Chemical ad-speak about Dow support for

The Blue Planet Run. “Runners helping the people who are helping the planet. It’s just one of the things the Dow Chemical Company does when it looks at life through the eyes of the Human Element.”

The 2007 Blue Planet Run aligns with our 2015 Sustainability Goals and our commitment to addressing some of the most pressing challenges faced by humankind. With science, R&D, new products, and the „The Human Element,“ Dow pledges to contribute to solutions for some of the most serious problems faced by the most vulnerable members of the larger human family: affordable and adequate food supply; decent housing; improved personal health and safety; and sustainable water supplies.5

Ah, there’s that Human Element again, aligning Dow with other more environmentally sensitive goals, by kicking in some dough and taking a photo-op in return. The photographs are lovely, all soft-focus and as misty as your eyes when you contemplate the good works of Dow. Unhappily, victims of Napalm may not have any eyes, so we don’t really know how either life or magazine ads look through their eyes. Dow makes Napalm, a sticky and incendiary liquid that kills people by burning them to death and a big profit maker at Dow, along with Agent Orange.

Incendiary munitions can kill or wound by immolation and by asphyxiation. Burn victims of napalm do not experience 1st degree burns due to the adhesive properties of napalm that stick to the skin. Immolation produces very rapid loss of blood pressure, unconsciousness, and death in a short time. Third degree burns are typically not painful at the time, since only the cutaneous (skin) nerves respond to heat and full-thickness (third-degree) burns kill the nerves. Severe second-degree burns such as likely to be suffered by someone hit with a small splash of napalm are the severely painful ones, the ones likely to be survived, and likely to produce hideous scars called keloids (which also bring about motor disturbances).6

Well, thank god the burns are not painful at the time. Immolation produces death in a short time. I would think so. But then a short time probably depends upon who is holding the clock, the burner or the burnee. It’s the small splash you want to look out for, that one hurts like hell, to say nothing of the hideous scars, both mental and physical.

Only in technical language like that used at Global Security can we observe the disinterested language of producing death. In more common language, a US army source, talking about napalm, reported7

We sure are pleased with those backroom boys at Dow. The original product wasn’t so hot – if the gooks were quick they could scrape it off. So the boys started adding polystyrene – now it sticks like shit to a blanket. But if the gooks jumped under water it stopped burning, so they started adding Willie Peter (white phosphorus) so’s to make it burn better. And just one drop is enough, it’ll keep on burning right down to the bone so they die anyway from phosphorus poisoning.”

There were college campus protests, but Dow directors decided it was too profitable a product to give up. Protests of Dow took place at many colleges but the Dow board voted to continue production of napalm after purportedly attempting to persuade the U.S. Department of Defense to accept responsibility for napalm and exculpate Dow’s management. For those of you who, like me, aren’t exactly sure what exculpate means, the definition is to pronounce not guilty of criminal charges. Having made that profitable and technically non-criminal decision, they presumably broke for lunch.

Nifty.

The Human Element campaign has finally run its course at Dow. It made me angry the first time I saw it. Strangely, during the time it ran I’ve not yet gotten used to the glib passing-off and avoidance of corporate history.

But I’m no longer angry—merely in awe of the corporate-PR-ad-agency power to change public image and perception by changing the target. Both new television spots, titled “Solutionism. The New Optimism,8” introduced the first ad focused on quiet train technology and the second on the benefits of gluten-free bread. Shot in Brazil, state-of-the-art effects were utilized to create a train built entirely of people as well as a 25-foot stack of bread traversing the globe on the head of a bicyclist.

Fine. Cool even, I hope it works like a million.

Getting back to corporate history, Agent Orange is the code name for an herbicide and defoliant used by the U.S. military in its Herbicidal Warfare program during the Vietnam War, when an estimated 21,136,000 gal. (80 000 m³) of Agent Orange were sprayed across North Vietnam. 4.8 million Vietnamese people were exposed to Agent Orange, resulting in 400,000 deaths and disabilities, and 500,000 children born with birth defects.9

400,000 dead and 500,000 birth defects that corporate directors Arnie Allemang, Andy Liveris (chairman and CEO), Jacqueline Barton, Jim Bell, Jeff Fettig, Barbara Hackman Franklin, John Hess, Geoffe Merszei, Jim Ringler, Ruth Shaw and Paul Stern felt upheld the premise and promise of their dedication to The Human Element. Patti Rocks, Dow VP, perhaps says it best from the corporate point of view;

This is more than an ad campaign to our company. It is a statement to the world and, more importantly, to ourselves about the future direction of our business. It will be our calling card to people around the world that care about the future relationship between businesses, society and the environment. It reflects our intention as a company to prioritize the things we do to advance innovation and focus the people and resources of Dow on solving human problems.”10

The dead and maimed are piling up and, while Dow focuses and advances, many potential victims around the world pray to whatever god they revere that Dow stays in Midland, Michigan and out of their immediate lives.

But drop a calling-card over at the closest VA hospital, Patti. Guys are still there, our guys, fighting the affects of Agent Orange from thirty years ago. Admiral Elmo Zumwalt, commander of the U.S. Navy in Vietnam and member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, charged that the government exoneration of Agent Orange was “politically motivated to cover up the true effects of dioxin, and manipulate public perception.”

Manipulate public perception? Dow? Surely not.

It may well be that Dow has killed, maimed, disfigured, blinded and permanently wrecked the lives of more people on the face of the earth than any other corporate entity. And that’s okay, if you can stomach it. Apparently the board of directors makes enough coin to choke it down.

But what is not allowable, is to kill and maim and poison and wreck the lives of hundreds of thousands of people, perhaps millions worldwide and then con the ordinary public Joe by a paid ad campaign that makes the company out to be Mother Teresa.

The Human Element advertising creative was developed featuring real people rather than professional actors and includes dramatic environmental and human imagery (a blacksmith in Mexico, children at an orphanage in Namibia, an artist at his studio in Prague) gathered on location on four continents.”

Dows claim of featuring real people, is fraudulently dismissive of the real people involved, the ones who have no PR firm or high-powered agency to represent their pain. Indian eyes are blinded and the real people are children in Bhopal orphanages, kid’s wards in Vietnam, adults cut adrift to a lifetime paying the cost of birth defects, as well as the wrecked veterans on both sides of the past five wars.

Give it up for the noise of Madison Avenue. Peace and quiet is either in the graveyards or begging on the streets. We have come to accept flagrant PR as truth and feel-good soft focus ads as the ‘new truth’ behind which corporations stand when the old truths have become a liability and embarrassment.

Chop-shopping our history, both corporate and political, is more than a ‘slippery slope,’ it presents ourselves to ourselves as a fable rather than the energetic, productive America that was once the envy of the world.

Al Capp’s Shmoo and Madison Avenue’s Ability to Shmooze Waste, Evil and Greed into Pork Chops, Chicken and Steak

In 40’s and 50’s America, dwelled a cartoonist by the name of Al Capp, who was that age’s equal to Doonesbury. Possibly even better-known. At its peak, Li’l Abner was read daily by 70 million Americans (the U.S. population at the time was only 180 million), with adult readers far outnumbering children.

Every bit as socially insightful, Capp’s territory was the hillbilly environs of a mythical Dogpatch, Kentucky; „an average stone-age community,“ inhabited by Lil Abner, Mammy and Pappy Yokum, Daisy Mae Scragg, Marryin’ Sam and beautiful, full-figured babes like Daisy Mae, Wolf Gal, Stupefyin‘ Jones and Moonbeam McSwine (all of whom found their way onto the painted noses of bomber planes during World War II and the Korean War).11 The late John Updike said, “Li’l Abner was a comic strip with fire in its belly and a brain in its head.

No small potato in the cartooning game, Capp for many years simultaneously produced the daily strip, a weekly syndicated newspaper column, and a 500-station radio program. This is the long way ‘round to introducing the Shmoo, an animal of typical Capp genius. I grew up with Lil Abner, but for those who were not so privileged, this further Wikipedia explanation summarizes the Shmoo;12

A Shmoo is shaped like a plump bowling pin with legs. It has smooth skin, eyebrows and sparse whiskers – but no arms, nose or ears. Its feet are short and round but dexterous, as the shampoo’s comic book adventures make clear. It has a rich gamut of facial expressions, and expresses love (often) by exuding hearts over its head.

Cartoonist Al Capp ascribed to the Shmoo the following curious characteristics. His satirical intent should be evident:

They reproduce asexually and are very prolific. They require no sustenance other than air. Naturally gentle, they require minimal care, and are ideal playmates for young children.

Shmoos are delicious to eat, and are eager to be eaten. If a human looks at one hungrily, it will happily immolate itself, either by jumping into a frying pan, after which they taste like chicken, or into a broiling pan, after which they taste like steak. When roasted they taste like pork, and when baked they taste like catfish. (Raw, they taste like oysters on the half-shell.)

They also produce eggs (neatly packaged), milk (bottled grade-A), and butter — no churning required. Their pelts make perfect bootleather or house timber, depending on how thick you slice it. They have no bones, so there’s absolutely no waste. Their eyes make the best suspender buttons, and their whiskers make perfect toothpicks. In short, they are simply the perfect ideal of a subsistence agricultural herd animal.

The frolicking of shmoon is so entertaining (such as their staged „shmoosical comedies“) that people no longer feel the need to watch television or go to the movies.

Some of the more tasty varieties of Shmoo are more difficult to catch. Usually Shmoo hunters, now a sport in some parts of the country, utilize a paper bag, flashlight and stick to capture their Shmoos. At night the light stuns them, then they can be whacked in the head with the stick and put in the bag for frying up later on.

An unexpected and virtually unprecedented postwar merchandising phenomenon followed Capp’s introduction of the Shmoo in Li’l Abner. As in the strip, Shmoos suddenly appeared to be everywhere in 1949 and 1950 — including a Time Magazine cover story. They also garnered nearly a full page of coverage (under „Economics“) in Time’s International section. Major articles also ran in Newsweek, Life Magazine, New Republic and countless other publications and newspapers. Virtually overnight, as a Life headline put it, the „U.S. Becomes Shmoo-struck!“

It’s all over now. The reference to a Shmoo in that portion of society under fifty (ironically, the group to which ads are mostly aimed) brings more of a quizzical look than a grin of recognition. But the Madison Avenue crowd (those Mad Men of TV fame) who once cringed at the realization they couldn’t satisfy every requirement of every client, took a page out of Capp’s book and, like Shmoos, just did it.

Got a Bhopal problem? Shmoose it into The Human Element. A little difficulty with eleven million gallons of crude spread across eleven thousand square miles of ocean (1,000 gallons per square mile)? Shmoose it. $26 million a year will do the job and change the focus. According to the Shmoo version of the Exxon corporate web site;

Our 2007 Corporate Citizenship Report describes our global efforts relating to the economic, environmental, and social performance of our operations, while continuing to help meet world energy demand.

Well, look at me hungrily and call me a pork chop.

Taking these corporate preenings in the order presented, Exxon economic performance was exemplary in 2007, bagging $41 billion in profit for the year, some $1,300 per second. I like to put unknowable amounts like that in recognizable numbers. I have no idea what $41 billion actually looks like (or would buy), but I can visualize $1,300. It’s the size of my social security check. Actually, it’s a hundred bucks more than that, each and every second. I have to wait a month for my $1,300 (2,562,000 seconds) and there we are, back into unknowable numbers.

Exxon environmental performance was less successful, as the company was sued in 2007 by New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo13 to “force the cleanup of a decades-old, 17 million gallon oil spill in New York City. The lawsuit concerns a leak that was discovered in 1978 in Newtown Creek, the waterway that separates the boroughs of Queens and Brooklyn. It has formed an underground contamination over 55-acres of the Greenpoint section of Brooklyn, the lawsuit says.”

This is one of the worst environmental disasters in the nation, larger than the Exxon Valdez and slower in the cleanup,” Mr. Cuomo said in a statement. “ExxonMobil must and will be held accountable. The toxic footprint of ExxonMobil is found all over this area. It is ExxonMobil’s oil that remains under the homes and businesses. And it is ExxonMobil that has dragged its feet and done as little as possible to address the dangers that it created.”14

That’s 6 million gallons more than the Exxon Valdez disaster in Prince William Sound. What covered 11,000 square miles in Alaska, concentrates in 1/10th of a square mile under a small neighborhood in Queens. The streets would be awash in sludge, were the damage not neatly (and conveniently) hidden below ground.

Discovered 31 years ago, who knows for how many decades it went without discovery? Prodded and cajoled for thirty-one years, Exxon intends to “vigorously defend against the lawsuit.” So much for the greening of Greenpoint or environmental performance. Even a Shmoo would be amazed.

That leaves social performance as the last of the self-congratulatory big three Exxon boasts of in its 2007 report. Twenty years fighting a jury award is pretty good social performance and whittling the $5 billion Exxon Valdez award down to an amount equal to three and a half days profit is even better. Not three and a half days income, just profit.

„As we have stated consistently, like everyone involved in the tragic Valdez accident, Exxon Mobil is anxious to have the matter resolved,“ an e-mail from company spokesman Tony Cudmore said. „We approached the plaintiffs‘ legal representatives with an offer to pay the punitive damages awarded by the Supreme Court on June 25, less certain costs and amounts relating to earlier settlements with former plaintiffs. The amount agreed with the plaintiffs is approximately $383.4 million.“15

Three and a half days total and twenty years after the event. With a company this consistently anxious to resolve issues, those living and working in Greenpoint have a better chance of blowing up than being cleaned up.

We the public are the Shmoo. Exxon’s PR and ad agency people feed us distortion and outright lies (dressed as global efforts relating to the economic, environmental, and social performance) and we gaze at them adoringly, buy a few more shares of Exxon stock and turn into pork chops.

Pharmaceuticals: Dorothy Hamill in Glorious Color, Relieved of All Her Pain. Side-Effects (in small print) on the Next Page

There’s a photograph of Dorothy Hamill, right in the middle of my magazine, smiling a pain-free smile while lacing her skates. Gold-Medal winner in the ’76 Olympics, it’s no accident that she’s paid spokeswoman for Vioxx®. Dorothy is of an age, nearly thirty years after her brilliant performance, that the folks who recognize her best are at an age where they are apt to suffer from arthritis (myself among them).

This is a free Dorothy Hamill, free (as the ad explains) from the pain of osteoarthritis and all that freedom due to the wonders of Vioxx®. The year is 2002 and, having had an ache or pain myself from time to time, I read further. Vioxx® is here, the ad explains, to offer 24 hour relief from the most common type of arthritis pain. Dorothy Hamill is flogging it, lighting the empty stadium seats behind her with that great smile.

„It isn’t about going for a medal. Or feeling like a kid again. It’s about controlling the pain that can keep you from doing everyday things.“

One pill, a single swallowable solution for all day and all night relief. Vioxx® effectively reduced pain and stiffness. Wow. Gotta be good stuff. That’s the cover page, the good news, so to speak.

Flipping the page, the backside of the ad (all small-print and no Dorothy Hamill) sets out a more complete menu of what Merck calls „patient information.“ Informative doesn’t half say it; you have to be patient just to read it, downright brave to even think about popping that pill.

The first half of the small-print page is a detailed warning of who shouldn’t take the product and what to tell your doctor prior to prescription. Not ask your doctor, tell him.

It’s small print, but not a small point. Vioxx®, in addition to giving one-pill all day and all night relief, may also provide (at no additional charge),

  • Upper respiratory infection

  • Diarrhea

  • Nausea

  • High blood pressure

  • Stomach and intestinal bleeding, with or without warning, could lead to hospitalization or death.

  • Allergic reaction, including swelling of the face, lips, tongue and/or throat.

  • Serious kidney problems occur rarely, including acute kidney failure.

  • Severe liver problems, including hepatitis, jaundice and liver failure, occur rarely.

  • Headache.

  • Dizziness.

  • Vomiting.

  • Heartburn, stomach pain and upset.

  • Swelling of the legs and/or feet.

  • Back pain.

  • Tiredness

  • Urinary tract infection.

The fine print goes on to say,

„The side effects described above do not include all of the side effects reported with Vioxx®. Do not rely on this leaflet alone for information about side effects. Your doctor or pharmacist can discuss with you a more complete list of side effects.“

A more complete list? Really. And with just one pill a day. My god, you used to have to be a real abuser of your body to even approach a list like that, but now you can trade arthritis pain for all the above with a single dose. That’s the print version. You could catch that great Dorothy smile on TV as well.16

(Hamill) „When I started skating at 8 years old, I thought I’d never experience the thrill of winning a medal. With all the great memories has come another thing I never thought I’d experience — the pain of osteoarthritis.“

Voiceover: „Vioxx is here. … With one little pill a day, Vioxx can provide 24-hour relief.“

Since the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s 1997 decision to permit pharmaceutical companies to directly market prescription drugs to the public, scores of sports figures have signed on to endorse a variety of pills, ranging from allergy medication to pain relievers and more. The partnership has been lucrative for the athletes, with upwards of $4 billion spent annually on advertising by drug companies, as well as for the drug makers, which have seen profits soar with the new-found marketing ability to attach familiar faces with their products.

In the past nine years, pharmaceutical commercials have revealed to the world that Atlanta Falcons coach Dan Reeves has high cholesterol, golf legend Jack Nicklaus battles high blood pressure and Olympic gold-medalist Mary Lou Retton suffers from an overactive bladder. Former Senator and presidential candidate Bob Dole apparently suffers from whatever Viagra cures.

Even the very endorsement of athletes who never claim to use the products (as drug makers have found) can alleviate the stigma associated with some ailments. Major-leaguer Rafael Palmiero, NASCAR driver Mark Martin and former NFL stars Mike Ditka and Tony Dorsett have attached their names to awareness campaigns for erectile dysfunction, but only Palmiero and Ditka have acknowledged in advertisements that they have prescriptions that treat the condition in their medicine cabinet.

Before the golden years of deregulation, when the FDA cared more about safety than commercialization, these sorts of remedies were only marketed directly to doctors. Your doctor made the decision about appropriate use. But that was when you had a doctor. Nowadays it’s likely you don’t, at least not one who knows you as family doctors once did.

So the drug companies opt to market directly, no doubt concerned that doctors are too busy these days filling out forms and sufferers (potential, as well as real) have a better grip on what they need. Not only need, but deserve, with as many ache and pain-suffering citizens as possible trooping into their doctors‘ office, shaking Dorothy Hamill in physician faces.

Diagnosis and treatment is now in the hands of the consumer and we seem to think that’s just fine.

The Voiceover Can Kill You, but Modesty and Charisma Carry the Day

In its five years on the market, Vioxx® was alleged to have caused as many as 120,000 deaths. But it grossed $2.5 billion in annual sales for Merck and the CEO, Raymond V. Gilmartin, got the following love-letter coverage from the NYTimes immediately after his appearance before the Senate Finance Committee. Not Health or Human Services, but the Finance Committee. That in itself is an interesting venue for a discussion of medical malpractice but it is, after all, a billion dollar game.

17Something finally went right yesterday for Raymond V. Gilmartin, the embattled chairman and chief executive of Merck & Company…Scientists have argued that Merck knew of Vioxx’s heart risks years earlier, citing evidence from large studies of patient records and company documents that have come to light in lawsuits against Merck. But yesterday, in a hearing before the Senate Finance Committee that could be a dress rehearsal for testimony Mr. Gilmartin may be forced to give in those suits, he had a relatively good day.

Based on the way lawmakers have recently treated other executives whose companies have come under fire, Mr. Gilmartin had reason to expect a grilling from lawmakers, especially since the hearing included some of Merck’s harshest critics. Instead, the senators treated him gently.

One can only presume that none of the 120,000 (purportedly) killed were close relatives or friends of the senators doing the grilling.

Charles Grassley, ranking Democrat on the committee at that time had just tirelessly raised $7 million for his 2004 campaign and $920,000 of it came from healthcare and insurers. Outdone, but unembarrassed, Orrin Hatch, chairman of the Finance Committee at the time, was only slightly less on the take, raking in a smidge over $6 million, $765,000 of it from those same sources.

As stated below, those contributions (to himself and public health) impressed the senator. Hatch, Republican of Utah, said that he had been impressed with Merck’s contributions to public health and that he believed that Merck acted responsibly in dealing with the questions around Vioxx.

. . . At first glance, the deference that Mr. Gilmartin received yesterday, and the apparent support from his board, may seem disproportionate. For all the financial losses caused by Enron and various other corporate frauds and scandals, Vioxx’s opponents contend, the damage that the drug caused is more fundamental.

Fundamentally, killing people.

One of those, Dr. David Graham, an F.D.A. researcher who is one of Merck’s severest critics, said in testimony yesterday that Vioxx had caused as many as 139,000 deaths and injuries between its introduction in 1999 and its withdrawal. Merck disputes that estimate, though it has not offered any estimate of its own. Nasty business, that trying to keep an accurate count of the dead.

But Merck as a company and Mr. Gilmartin personally can draw upon a reservoir of credibility that has not been available to many of the other companies that have come under fire, according to Wall Street analysts and experts on corporate leadership. If you can’t trust a Wall Street analyst or an expert on corporate leadership, I mean…come on…who can you trust?

And unlike brash executives like Mr. Skilling or L. Dennis Kozlowski, the former chairman of Tyco International, Mr. Gilmartin appears quiet and modest. In person, he is polite and soft-spoken, a small and less than charismatic man who is an electrical engineer, not a doctor.

The score at half-time, charisma and modesty are outscoring death, ten thousand to one.

“They have certainly had the reputation of being an ethical leader as well as a leader in research for quite some time,“ said Richard T. Evans, an industry analyst with Sanford C. Bernstein & Company. “Recently, Merck has been more promotional, but its reputation is still superb,” Mr. Evans said.

And with that, the New York Times laid its praise to rest, before it wet its own corporate pants and turned adoringly into a pork chop.

For Pfizer, Killing You Is an Inconvenient Side-Effect

Dorothy Hamill was the (innocent) shill for Merck, but it says something about the possible side effects of shilling, like being named in lawsuits. The Celebrex model Pfizer displays crewing a sailboat in its full page New Yorker ad, is anonymous. Fool the ad-star Dorothy Hamill types once, but don’t try it twice.

So Pfizer jumped right in the water, announcing that “2 hours sailing won’t keep you from having all hands on deck.” It was truly a here-we-go-again moment and a bold frontal attack on consumer memory. Four paragraphs down in the ad and underlined (for use in court at a later date) we find;

Important Information: CELEBREX, like all prescription NSAIDS, may increase the chance of a heart attack or stroke that can lead to death. It should not be used right before or after certain heart surgeries. Serious skin reactions or stomach and intestine problems such as bleeding and ulcers can occur without warning and may cause death.

Twice mentioning death, along with sailing free from pain. If Pfizer learned anything from the Merck experience, it seems to have been to confront death head-on. One would presume chairman Hank McKinnell, along with Vice-Chairmen Karen Katen, David Shedlarz and Jeff Kindler, are the ethical heavyweights of the company. And yet they apparently see no problem with all this statistically acceptable death, illness and mayhem on the part of a company that claims,

We dedicate ourselves to humanity’s quest for longer, healthier, happier lives through innovation in pharmaceutical, consumer and animal health products.”

Hats off to hutzpah and humanity’s quest. Ethics aside, the practicality of maiming and killing in the name of ‘humanity’s quest’ comes from the fact that no lawsuit is capable of effectively punishing a company. The company does not pay. Big Tobacco (and the other purveyors of sickness) taught us that. Merck shook off its liability like a quick summer shower. Two entities pay, neither of them the corporation.

  1. In the case of a write-off (writing down the cost of litigation and jury awards), the taxpayer pays to the degree that punitive damages and legal fees are deductible. Stockholders pick up the rest.

  2. In the case of longer-term payouts required by the courts, consumers pay in the increased cost of drugs, or cigarettes or whatever commercial product is currently in the business of killing people for profit.

Essentially, the pharmaceutical industry has a ‘license to kill,’ a specialty they share with James Bond. One is dispensed by Brit government, the other American. The only difference is Bond is fiction, Pfizer is reality.

It’s beyond a simple Google-search (and my patience) to find out what Katen, Shedlarz and Kindler actually earn off all this cleverly presented advertising. That information is public, but hidden deeply in the corporate report. Hank McKinnell’s 2005 compensation was guesstimated to be about $16 million. Who knows about the others except the compensation committee?

Not bloody likely they’re taking Celebrex, but on the subject of taking one’s own medicine, it would seem there should be more to governance over a pharmaceutical corporation than financial oversight and juicing the quarterly results. One would think that signing off on responsibility for product safety (other than lip-service to ‘healthier, happier lives through innovation‘) ought to be part and parcel of earning a million and a half a month. Particularly when the stakes are so high on downside liability.

Certainly the chairman and vice-chairmen of Pfizer know about the side effects of Celebrex. It’s there in print. I direct each of them to their own advertisement.

Wrongfully misleading investors is what put Enron’s Ken Lay on a path to 25 years in prison, which he escaped only by dying during the appeal process. No prison sentence was handed down or even asked for against Merck, though the company willfully and knowingly killed and maimed a very large number of their consumers.

Until that happens, until corporate governors like Hank, Karen, David and Jeff go to the pokey for the arrogance of killing us as a side-effect, that won’t change.

1 A substance that initiates or accelerates a chemical reaction without itself being affected.

2 Council of Public Relations Firms, The FIRMVOICE, GolinHarris Adds ‘Human Element’ to Dow Chemical Campaign, 3-12-08

3 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bhopal_disaster

4 My father-in-law, who worked on a train stranded at the site for four days, is now fighting leukemia. All of his co-workers have since died, although there is no public record of subsequent passenger deaths.

5 http://www.dow.com/blueplanetrun/

6 http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/systems/munitions/napalm.htm

7 Philip Jones Griffiths(1971). Vietnam Inc.. New York: Collier-Macmillan.

8 Draftfcb Chicago, Major New Integrated Marketing Campaign Positions Dow as the Leading Science Solutions Provider

9 Wikipedia, Agent Orange

10 Patti Temple Rocks, Dow vice president of global communications and reputation, 6-20-06

11 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Al_Capp

12 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shmoo

13 Reuters, New York State sues Exxon over Brooklyn spill, 7-17-07

14 NY Times, Cuomo to Sue Exxon Over Pollution in Brooklyn, 2-8-07

15 Anchorage Daily News, Exxon settlement could be distributed in October, 8-27-08

16 ESPN.com, The burden of pitching pills, Darren Rovell, 11-19-04

17 NYTimes, For Merck Chief, Credibility at the Capitol, Alex Berenson, 11-19-04

published: 20. 7. 2014