A few weeks ago in New York I jumped into a taxi. The radio was on.
'This is WIN WIN New York - you give us 21 minutes and we give you the
world.' Only what you get is weather, ads, weather, drive-by shootings
in Long Island City, more weather and ads.
One of the ads was for a Viagra-type product. It featured a group of men
who rated their love lives on a scale of one to ten before and, so to
speak, after. Before, modest to a fault, they gave themselves a two.
Afterwards, they all rated themselves a ten. But, hey, that's men for
you. As some women might observe, they're suffering from a condition
prominent in men: vivid imagination. How much more interesting it would
have been, I thought, to let their partners do the scoring. But, hey,
that's advertising for you.
At least in the UK, we do things with a little more restraint. It is not
possible to advertise Viagra directly to the public. But it is possible
to advertise the condition - as addressed by an ad by McCann-Erickson
for the Impotence Association and the Men's Health Forum.
Whatever the rules, however, this is still an ad for Viagra. I know this
because at the bottom of the ad it says: 'Supported with an educational
grant from Pfizer.' Don't you just love that word 'educational'? It
implies a marvellous high-mindedness and selflessness on the part of
Pfizer, whereas it really ought to say: 'Funded by the Pfizer marketing
department.' Since McCann is also Pfizer's agency of record for Europe,
you might conclude that the Impotence Association is merely a front.
What of the ad itself? Well, I suppose it's curiously old-fashioned in
the sense that it lays out the problem on one page and then offers the
reward on the other. Problem and reward, however, look like they're from
The headline copy is certainly arresting, but the typeface is
I think it's meant to be brutal and in-your-face. I find it clunky and
unappealing to the eye; our group art director describes it as a
'fascist' typeface and using a 'fascist' colour. And what's with the
layout of the headline?
After the scare tactics of the headline the body copy is, if not
clinical, quite matter of fact and straightforward. It's the kind of
thing you can imagine a kindly doctor - think someone with the
disposition of David Abbott - saying. Although it would be a lot more
elegant if he'd written it, the copy is nonetheless comforting and
reassuring. Notice that there is no mention of the word impotence. I'd
guess that, since the message is that erectile dysfunction is a health
problem rather than a physical or sex one, that is entirely
The visual looks as though it is designed to be similarly reassuring. It
certainly made me think. However, they were not altogether worthy
thoughts. Like: is he, you know, quite a lot older than her? Or has she
got flabby arms and crows' feet, only they've tried to airbrush them
out? Why is he in a dressing gown and she's in a nightie? Is that a
before or after picture? If after, how would they mark it out of
Enough of those unworthy thoughts. What really offended me about the
visual was its naffness: that's naff in a soft-sell, gel-on-the-lens,
lifestyle way. And there's the rub: the message from Pfizer is that
Viagra is neither a lifestyle drug nor a distress purchase. So why does
the visual suggest that it is the former, and the headline that it is
the latter? Probably because neither client nor agency can agree among
Dead cert for a Pencil? No, and no lead pencil jokes allowed.
Will it work? It's a response ad, and yes.
What would the chairman's wife say? Darling, why didn't you get
testimonials from men's partners?