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Pfizer's Viva Viagra Ad: Will What "Happens In Vegas, Stay There?"

Tuesday, 24 Jul 2007 | 3:19 PM ET

With little or no fanfare Pfizer launched a new ad campaign for its erectile dysfunction drug Viagra on NBC Nightly News last night. Pfizer has gotten into a bit of trouble before for its relatively racy Viagra spots like the "Horny Devil" campaign featuring the guy with two horns growing out of his head. This time it's got a bunch of 40-something guys sitting around a dusty barn singing "Viva Viagra" to the tune of Elvis' "Viva Las Vegas".

Viagra Ad
A new ad from Pfizer turns Viva Las Vegas into Viva Viagra

Clever, funny. But already at least one group doesn't think so. The AIDS Healthcare Foundation put out a press release quoting its president as saying, "Unfortunately, as far as Viagra is concerned, what happens in Vegas may NOT stay in Vegas when the use of Viagra as a party drug is encouraged with irresponsible ads like this. There is a real possibility of increased STD (sexually transmitted disease) and HIV exposure (as) a result of Pfizer's encouragement of the reckless use of its ED drug. I'm disappointed that Pfizer keeps pushing the envelope."

Pfizer says it did focus group research that showed the spot was 40% more effective at motivating men to talk to their doctors about impotence. The company cites previous research that claims the majority of men are still embarrassed to bring up the topic. So, they went with what they're calling a "positive, upbeat" ad campaign. The spots will run nationwide on broadcast and cable, but only in shows that have a demographic that's at least 90% adults. There will be no restrictions on the time of day it will air. McCann-Erickson (part of the Interpublic Group ) came up with the spot.

Pfizer spokesmen say the company ran the "concept" by the Food and Drug Administration and it apparently passed muster, but the agency did not see the finished product in advance. Regarding the criticism from the AIDS group, the company spokesmen say, "Pfizer has always been committed to appropriate use of Viagra. That's why we always encourage men to see their physicians to get a proper diagnosis and to have a discussion about safe sexual practices."

Last week Pfizer reported that Viagra sales fell 21% in the U.S. in the second quarter. Eli Lilly reported today that Q2 sales of its ED drug, Cialis, jumped 17% in the U.S. Cialis is the one that lasts 36 hours. So, Pfizer could be trying to generate buzz about the drug again and to goose sagging sales. But the company spokesmen say the timing is coincidental, that the campaign has been in development for months. Pfizer also started running the first TV commercials for its "disappointing" (that's the company's word) inhalable diabetic insulin, Exubera, over the last week or so. All good for the bottom lines of companies like the one I work for. We will see what, if anything, it does for sales of the drugs.

Questions? Comments? Pharma@cnbc.com

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