Pharmaceutical companies now leveraging Tik Tok influencers to addict kids to new drugs

Pharmaceutical companies have enjoyed unprecedented direct to consumer (DTC) advertising in the US and New Zealand for decades, and now they are taking these tactics to a whole new level. Big Pharma is shifting their deceptive marketing campaigns to virtual communication networks, and specifically targeting influencers to get their message across to younger consumers.

According to research conducted at the University of Colorado and the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, pharmaceutical companies are now leveraging Tik Tok influencers to addict kids to new drugs. Big Tech’s virtual communication platforms, which control most of the information that young people consume, have become portals of manipulation. Drug companies and vaccine makers dominate Big Tech’s algorithms, promoting drugs and blacklisting any dissenting information. No longer held accountable for their criminal activity, pharmaceutical companies dominate regulatory agencies and use billions of dollars in advertising money to hook consumers on their products.

Drug companies targeting virtual communication networks influencers to sell drugs

Pharmaceutical marketers have noticed the power of patient persuasion and begun to leverage ‘patient influencers’ in brand campaigns,” the study authors wrote. The influencer-marketing industry is worth $21.1 billion. Tik-Tok influencers, who have many followers, are given payouts to promote drugs and vaccines.

The bottom line here is that patient influencers act as a form of interactive direct-to-consumer (DTC) advertising, sharing their knowledge and experiences on pharmaceutical drugs with communities of followers in which they wield great influence,” said author Erin Willis, an associate professor of advertising, public relations and media design. “This raises ethical questions that need more investigation.”

When a pharmaceutical company targets consumers directly through the media, instead of presenting their evidence to physicians, they engage in direct-to-consumer advertising. Big Pharma started this controversial practice in the 1980s, but it has only been permitted in the US and New Zealand. Big Pharma is making DTC advertising go global, by leveraging virtual communication networks influencers. Basically, people with no medical training are being paid off to share drug information with the public. Influencers will sell the drugs using personal stories that rile their follower’s emotions.

Big Pharma expanding deceptive direct-to-consumer advertising practices

In the study, lead author Erin Willis conducted one-on-one interview with twenty-six different virtual communication networks influencers who regularly dispense medical advice and drug recommendations. These influencers suffer from different conditions, including lupus, fibromyalgia, Parkinson’s disease, asthma, HIV, celiac disease, chronic migraines, and perimenopause. The influencer’s average following was 40,000 followers. These people are referred to as “micro-influencers” and are targeted by drug companies because they are less expensive to work with and they have the greatest impact on consumer behavior. From the interviews, Willis found that 18 out of 26 of the influencers (69%) actually collaborated with a pharmaceutical company to dispense medical advice. Many were paid to post content for the drug companies. Some did it for free.

While the influencers said they strive to behave ethically, most report that they regularly receive private messages asking for detailed information about dosages and side effects of the drugs they recommend. “In an online community, there are other people there to say, ‘That’s not true or that’s not what I experienced’.” Willis said.

But with virtual communication networks, a lot of the conversation takes place privately.” This is dangerous because there is no vetting of personal claims when it comes to usage and efficacy. Influencers are incentivized to push drugs they do not fully understand, and they do so in private conversations to desperate consumers.

Willis says that the influencers are stressing the benefits of medications without providing informed consent about the side effects and downsides. To make matters worse, Tik Tok and these other virtual communication apps collect a person’s interests, likes, dislikes, psychic state, musical tastes, sexual orientation, political views, etc. to target market directly to them. For example, an influencer’s promotion of a weight loss drug, morning sickness drug, or antidepressant can be promoted up in a person’s feed to prey on their vulnerabilities. These targeted ads are used to prey on young people’s unhappiness, alienation, depression, anxiety, and family discord, hooking them on drugs that never address the underlying causes.


May 29, 2023


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