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Pfizer eases back into Viagra promotion

New disease awareness US television advertisement focuses on erectile dysfunction rather than the drug

Pfizer has returned to US television with a low-key disease awareness advertisement to support its erectile dysfunction drug Viagra.

The ad, which was first aired on November 20, never mentions Viagra by name and instead focuses on a man working at a call centre who is made aware of erectile dysfunction by another man. With the theme ìMake the callî, it finishes with a freephone number and website address which viewers can consult for further information and advice.

Created by Digitas, the ad will run on male-oriented cable channels such as the Golf Channel and will not be shown before 8pm or during any programme that doesn't attract an audience that is at least 90 per cent adult. Earlier this year, the new Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) voluntary code restricted drug advertisements deemed inappropriate for children to media channels and outlets with predominantly adult audiences.

Earlier this year Pfizer vowed to make its drug advertising more informative and educational.

The new campaign is in stark contrast to the last time Pfizer advertised Viagra on US television. The world's largest company withdrew widespread direct-to-consumer advertising for the top-selling drug in the erectile dysfunction market in November 2004 after the US Food and Drug Administration objected to ads featuring a couple shopping for lingerie.

The regulator said the ads had implied that the drug could restore youthful sexual performance rather than treat impotence, adding that Pfizer should have explained side effects and limits of the drug.

Despite the recent backlash against DTC drug advertising, Pfizer's shift to disease awareness so far into the product life-cycle is not common practice. The company said it still believes there is plenty of growth in the erectile dysfunction market as millions of men still misunderstand erectile dysfunction or are unwilling to seek help due to stigma and embarrassment.

ìOur object is to increase the number of patients who talk with their healthcare providers and then can be appropriately diagnosed and treated,î said Eric Sirota, Pfizer vice president for marketing of urology and respiratory drugs.

Despite massive advertising in the past, sales in the erectile dysfunction market have failed to live up to expectations. According to research from SunTrust Robinson Humphrey, world sales for impotence drugs were about $2.7bn, at least $1bn lower than pharma analysts forecast two and a half years ago.

2004 sales of Viagra dropped to $1.7bn, down 11 per cent from the previous year. Newcomers such as Cialis (Lilly) and Levitra (GlaxoSmithKline/Schering-Plough) have only marginally expanded the market since their inception in 2003.

The disease awareness spot is supported by a website, www.makethecall.com.

2nd September 2008

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