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NFL to end Levitra sponsorship

US football league cites concern over direction of marketing as reason for shelving lucrative $18m sponsorship deal

The US National Football League has decided not to renew its three-year sponsorship agreement for erectile dysfunction drug Levitra when it ends in March, saying that it felt “uncomfortable†with the way it was being advertised.

Levitra is co-marketed by Schering-Plough (S-P) and GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) in the US and was launched in the US in August 2003.

NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said that “the ads shifted from men's health to a performance, lifestyle issueâ€.

“We are getting out of the [ED] category,†he added. “As a whole, it has become more aggressive and is heading in a direction we weren't comfortable with.â€

Some of Levitra's ads as well as those of other ED competitors such as Pfizer's Viagra, had been criticised for being too sexually suggestive and have given momentum to the backlash against direct-to-consumer (DTC) pharmaceutical advertising.

More recently, however, ED drug ad campaigns have become more restrained disease awareness-style spots, not mentioning a specific product name and often describing medical conditions that the medication could help alleviate.

Advertising guidelines drawn up by the US pharmaceutical industry association PhRMA last year said companies should use targeted DTC campaigns that avoid audiences that are deemed inappropriate for the message. The move by the NFL is seen as an admission that women and children are big consumers of football.

McCarthy stressed that the NFL had parted amicably with S-P and GSK and that Levitra is still welcome to advertise on football programming.

An S-P spokesman said that the deal was not renewed by mutual agreement and noted that ads for Levitra have been running in this year's NFL playoffs. He declined to say whether Levitra would still be advertised in this year's upcoming Super Bowl as it had been previously.

Levitra has been struggling to make up ground on its competitors, Viagra and Eli Lilly's Cialis since its launch in August 2003. A recent UBS report said Levitra was third in the US ED market with a share of 14 per cent, compared with 59 per cent for Viagra and 27 per cent for Cialis.

Analysts are concerned that the ED market is not expanding as they had hoped it would.

2nd September 2008

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