Shock and Awe In Medical Marketing

Wikipedia defines Shock and awe, technically known as rapid dominance, as

“a tactic based on the use of overwhelming power and spectacular displays of force to paralyze the enemy’s perception of the battlefield and destroy their will to fight.”


So how can it be used in marketing? Well hold on to your hats, it’s been used in marketing for centuries, and mostly in medicine.

Starting with the old Snake Oil Salesmen who would strike fear of illness and disease into anyone who would stand and listen, followed by claims that their elixir would cure all ailments.

It may shock you, (no pun intended) to learn that before 1977 it was illegal in the U.S. to advertise professional services. A landmark case “Bates v. State Bar of Arizona” in 1977 changed everything.

In that case the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that state bar associations could no longer stop attorneys from advertising. This ruling spread into other professions, including the medical profession.

The problem with advertising at any level is there are laws against making false claims to sell a product. No doubt repercussions from the early “Snake Oil Salesmen”.

However, the case of Bates vs State Bar of Arizona was kind of a double edged sword for the medical and other professions.

You see even though advertising for lawyers opened up advertising for Doctors and other professionals, ironically lawyers began seeking “injured” individuals who had been damaged by false advertising. Creating a double edged sword for the medical profession. So advertising for medical professionals has to be carefully handled.

But how, you may ask, does this allow “shock and awe” advertising in the medical field if there are laws prohibiting false claims? Well it takes a clever and manipulative mind to put together medical advertising that scares the crap out of people making them believe they have a problem or illness, then giving them the impression that the advertised medication will solve their problem.

Again you might ask; How does this kind of advertisement help the medical professional? It might help the pharmaceutical companies, but how does it help the doctors?

First a commercial comes on listing symptoms of a particular disease, usually using an obscure medical term you’ve never heard of before. Since many diseases have a host of similar symptoms those are the ones that are listed first. So of course if you have any of those, your interest is perked. Eventually after a few lines of more serious symptoms you’re anxiety is being tapped into. Now you’re wondering if you have the disease.

The commercial continues with the “drug” used to treat the symptoms along with the many side effects, often worse than the symptoms of the disease or ailment. The commercial continues saying you need to weigh the risks of the side effects with the risks of the disease.

So I’ve given you your “shock” so here is your “awe”.

The advertisers don’t tell you your doctor will cure you, they don’t tell you your doctor is the best but they send you running for your doctor…with one brilliant (and sinister) phrase:

“Ask Your Doctor If [insert drug name here] is right for you?”

WALLAH! You’re wondering if you should make an appointment.

Next time you have an appointment “ask your doctor” how many times people come running in asking their doctor about a medication they heard about on TV or came running in asking for testing.

Yes this kind of shock and awe advertising is going on in more areas than just medicine, for example the recent pandemic has surged sales in many staples that people have stockpiled, disaster preparedness products have soared in sales, self help products and books have gone up as well.

Anxiety purchases are often returned costing the company more money. Ethical advertising results in a lower rate of returns and requests for money back.

But it wasn’t only the new vaccines that made a big profit for Big Pharma, anti-anxiety drug prescriptions have soared as well.

According to, “Over the past year, U.S. prescriptions for anti-anxiety medications such as Klonopin and Ativan jumped 10.2% from 8.8 million in March 2019 to 9.7 million in March 2020, according to a Wall Street Journal analysis of data from health-research firm IQVIA.” Published on May 26, 2020.

Anti-anxiety medication prescriptions have spiked 34% during the coronavirus pandemic

The article referenced above, clearly shows how the shock and awe of a pandemic can create anxiety, depression and a host of other symptoms, boosting sales for all kinds of products, including medicines.

Now to be fair, manufacturers are not creating a false panic, Covid 19 is very real. And there is no doubt that the measures taken, quarantining mass numbers of people, is creating anxiety and hardship around the globe.

But I caution sellers against making unrealistic claims for any product they sell and holistic experts caution consumers to seek more natural and free methods of anxiety relief before turning to pharmaceuticals.

If your plan to create advertising for your clients, involves using shock and awe, then good luck.

If you’re a business looking for someone who will create shock and awe advertising don’t bother inquiring about my services.

In the end the best way to sell products or services, is to match the right person to the right product in an ethical and calm buying experience.

Published by Linda Farneth - Creative Lindations

Hi I'm Linda My current occupations are photographer, copywriter and website developer.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: