It was a funny headline: "Drug Companies Seek to Mend Their Image." The question was, what image?

Apparently the pharmaceutical companies decided that the customer was beginning to think they were interested only in raising prices, making barrels of money and producing very expensive TV commercials.

The top manufacturers met to figure out a way to bring back the goodwill they had in days of yore.

Malaprop, president of Outrageous Profit Pharmaceuticals, said, "The people are starting to believe we are too greedy and are only interested in the bottom line."

"Well put," said Dormer, of Drugs-R-Us. "We have to change our image. Our polls show people think we are responsible for many people dying because they can't afford our drugs.

Shortstop, the lobbyist for Hysdranstan Drugs, said, "If we don't change our image, Congress will listen to the people who elected them instead of to us."

"Even if we give them more money for their political campaigns?"

"Yes," said Shortstop. "The people who are causing us the most trouble are members of the media. Yet without our full-page ads and TV commercials, they're out of business."

Gladstern, marketing head for Rough Pharmaceuticals, said, "We have our people visiting doctors' offices with samples of our products and offering them cruises to Bermuda and family weekends at Disney World if they prescribe our drugs. Why can't we send our representatives into newspaper offices and TV stations to offer free samples of our erectile dysfunction pills?"

Shortstop said: "It would be worth a try. A lot of newspaper men are suffering from it.

"We should tell the public that our stockholders are widows and orphans.

"And they are people who depend on our company dividends for their pensions."

Dormer said, "The reason we have such a bad image is that people know it's much cheaper to buy our drugs in Canada."

Shortstop said, "Our lobbyists are working on that right now. There is a bill pending in Congress with the president's support that forbids imports of pharmaceuticals from other countries and generic drugs. We think it's a slam-dunk."

Malaprop said, "The ones who always complain about prices are senior citizens."

Gladstern agreed. "They complain about everything. Even my mother called me a serial pill gouger the other day."

"Don't senior citizens understand how capitalism works?" Shortstop asked.

"We have to make it much clearer. I suggest a commercial showing white rats playing in their cages. A man in a white jacket says, 'Each rat costs us two dollars, but we don't mind spending the money if it will help our researchers find a new pill to cure athlete's foot.' "

"It should fly," Dormer said. "We could also do another TV ad. It would show an elderly couple with white hair surfing in Hawaii. As they come out of the water holding a surfboard the husband says, 'Thanks to Whizbottom I feel like a new man.' His wife winks and says: 'He is a new man. Jerry has found the perfect pill for the perfect wave.' Then a voice-over will say, 'Warning, Whizbottom may cause nausea, high blood pressure, tingling in your feet, shortness of breath, dizziness and should not be taken when driving a bulldozer.' Then the couple dives back into the ocean."

Malaprop said, "If we are really sincere, we can win back the hearts and minds of our customers. But we have to double our public relations budget."

Shortstop asked, "Can we afford it?"

Malaprop replied, "We can if we double the price of our drugs."

(c) 2004 Tribune Media Services, Inc.