You Make the Call

  • by: |
  • 11/23/2005

Scott Hensley’s article in today’s Wall Street Journal appears under the headline, “Pfizer Tries Subdued TV Pitch for Viagra.” But that’s not right. The news is about a new, unbranded ad about erectile dysfunction. Not once does the word “Viagra” appear in the ad. Not once does the ad say that Pfizer manufactures a medicine to treat ED. It is, in FDA parlance, a disease awareness ad. But in Mr. Hensley’s article, as well as in other news reports, the letter “V” on the computer keyboard gets a whole lot of action. “But,” you ask, “aren’t these ads just slightly disguised Viagra promotions?” Well, they certainly increase awareness of the disease and point interested parties in the direction of their doctor — but there is (at least last time I looked) more than one drug in this therapeutic category. So, it’s very likely that these Pfizer ads will enhance, among other things, sales of the competition’s products as well as Viagra. If more men visit their doctor because of Pfizer’s disease awareness campaign, and since the “little blue pill” is the market leader, then Viagra will benefit disproportionately. That’s called smart marketing. But it’s savvy salesmanship combined with a more responsible message. It’s about disease awareness. No more men with horns. It’s also important to note that these disease awareness ads will not air before 8 p.m. or during programs that don’t attract an audience that is 90% or more adults — in strict adherence to the PhRMA DTC Guiding Principles. Pfizer could have tried to be cute and claimed that disease awareness ads aren’t covered under the PhRMA guidelines, that they found a loophole and could air them whenever they wanted. But the world’s largest pharmaceutical company is playing by the spirit as well as the letter of the protocols. And that’s laudable. That’s what a leader does. And, hopefully, a positive harbinger of things to come from other companies and other disease states.


Center for Medicine in the Public Interest is a nonprofit, non-partisan organization promoting innovative solutions that advance medical progress, reduce health disparities, extend life and make health care more affordable, preventive and patient-centered. CMPI also provides the public, policymakers and the media a reliable source of independent scientific analysis on issues ranging from personalized medicine, food and drug safety, health care reform and comparative effectiveness.

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