In this installment of our Adwatch video series—our sixth—we turn to a commercial for Boniva (ibandronate), a drug for osteoporosis. The ad features beloved actress Sally Field, who looks refreshingly younger than her actual age. Sally’s psyched about Boniva and its super-convenient dosing schedule: You can take it just once a month, compared to once a week—or even daily—for most other drugs in its class, called bisphosphonates. So you have more time to do fun stuff, like play with your grandkids, and ostensibly stronger bones to do it with.
Few things are that simple, of course, especially when it comes to direct-to-consumer drug ads. Boniva’s convenient, sure. But as the Adwatch video explains, that convenience comes at a price—it can set you back about 10 times the cost of the similar drug alendronate (the generic version of Fosamax). No wonder Boniva’s backers, Roche and GlaxoSmithKline can afford to invest in a big-name celebrity to pitch it. Interestingly, studies don’t show that Boniva is any more effective than other bisphosphonates. So unless you absolutely can’t tolerate a weekly dosing schedule, it makes sense to try the generic first, even if it means you won’t take the same drug as Sally.
And that’s if you really need the drug in the first place. While there’s clear evidence that bisphosphonates reduce the risk of bone fractures among people with osteoporosis, there’s some concern in the medical community that more people will take the drugs than needed, due in part to osteopenia, a “pre-osteoporosis” diagnostic category for which the bisphosphonates’ worth is less clear. That means millions of postmenopausal women with reduced bone density—but not osteoporosis—could expose themselves to the drugs’ risks, including heartburn, jawbone damage, and vision-harming eye inflammation. While the latter two side effects are very rare, they certainly make Boniva seem less glamorous.
Finally, the use of celebrities in drug advertisements raises all sorts of questions, from the ethical (Do celebs really use the drugs they promote?) to the trivial (Who is Sally’s hair stylist?). This is the first commercial we’ve analyzed that has a famous spokesperson, and it adds a whole new layer to the analysis. Are there any other celebrity-fronted commercials, drug or otherwise, that make you squirm? We’d love to hear your thoughts via the Comments link below.
—Jamie Kopf Hirsh, associate editor