In Hard Times, a Barrage of Ads Promises Peace of Mind

Spending on ads for antidepressant medications on traditional platforms has also gone up slightly, rising to $76.8 million from March through June from $75.6 million a year earlier, according to the research firm Kantar. Trintellix, an antidepressant medication, has eight ads on Facebook, according to Facebook Ad Library.

Marketing budgets have expanded greatly for companies offering remote mental health counseling, according to data from iSpot.TV. A commercial for Talkspace, a therapy-by-text service that has faced concerns about client privacy, features the swimmer Michael Phelps. “It’s OK to not be OK,” he says, “and it’s OK to ask for help.” Ads in this area include new ones for Lemonaid Health, Plushcare and other therapy providers.

The cannabis industry has also been stirring demand for products with the potential to soothe. Companies focused on CBD, or cannabidiol, spent nearly $4.3 million on ads from March through June, more than five times the $798,000 they spent a year earlier, according to Kantar. One such business, Green Roads, tells customers: “These days it’s easy to get overwhelmed. Just take a minute.” Charlotte’s Web CBD has noted on Instagram that “feeling anxious can be an understandable response to many of the stressful events life throws at us, especially during a pandemic.”

Regulators have cautioned CBD companies against overpromising. The Food and Drug Administration cracked down on ads pitching CBD as a pandemic treatment that can “crush corona.” The Federal Trade Commission warned Patriot CBD against making misleading statements like: “When your body is chronically stressed, your immune system suffers. With the spread of this potentially deadly coronavirus, stress will be high … consider CBD Oil.”

Janelle Applequist, an associate professor of advertising and public relations at the University of South Florida, said the appeal of ads promising solace was likely to continue.

“What’s scary about right now is that we’ve been cooped up for so long, and the day-to-day has become so difficult, that it’s very tempting to see an ad for a drug and think that it might bring release,” she said. “We’re talking about people feeling serious financial pressure, social anxiety, loneliness.”

She added, “This is almost a recipe for disaster.”

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