Viagra faces stiff competition as Pfizer calls ad review

Pfizer, the global pharmaceuticals giant, has kicked off a global review of its advertising requirements ahead of an international campaign for Viagra due to launch first in the UK next year.

Viagra faces stiff competition as Pfizer calls ad review

Sales for Viagra, which is Pfizer’s top product, peaked in 2012 after pulling in worldwide revenue of $2.05 bn. But revenue has since declined to $1.71 bn last year, less than in 2007, and the brand faces greater competition in the coming years as its US patent expires in 2020.

From December 2017, rival Teva Pharmaceutical will be allowed to launch a generic version of the drug. 

And in the UK, Viagra’s patent expired in 2013, which meant Pfizer had to lower prices for the brand as it faced competition from dozens of generic providers. The drug is available over the counter after a consultation from a pharmacist, who can prescribe Viagra on the spot.

It seems that increased competition, as well as less stigma around the issue of erectile dysfunction, has led the brand to become more confident in its advertising over time. 

Pfizer looking for network agency

The review, which is being run out of the US, will not affect BBDO New York, the incumbent ad agency for Viagra's direct-to-consumer ad business. Pfizer is reviewing for its consumer health business for advertising over-the-counter drugs.

In the UK, Viagra is available over the counter after a consultation with a pharmacist.

The new Viagra campaign is due to launch in the UK in late 2017 and will roll out across the rest of Europe and the US in 2018. 

Chemistry meetings are due to take place later this month and Pfizer is looking for a network agency to handle the brief, according to people familiar with the matter.

A spokeswoman for Pfizer denied there is an agency review underway and would not comment further.

Tackling taboos through ads

Viagra first went on sale in 1998 and, at the time, was the only erectile dysfunction drug on the market.

The brand’s first ad campaign was a subtle affair: a print campaign featuring an older couple with the euphemistic tagline: "let the dance begin". There was no explanation of what Viagra was in the ad, created by Cline Davis & Mann in the US. 

Pfizer also hired former presidential candidate Bob Dole in 1998 for a TV ad campaign to raise awareness about impotence. This was followed in 2002 by the company hiring Brazilian football legend Pelé to travel the world and encourage men to seek medical advice about sexual health issues.

Meanwhile Viagra’s ads found creative ways to use metaphor, such as older men using horses to get their trucks out of the mud. 

But a new spot in September 2014 by BBDO showed a more direct approach as Viagra became more confident in its advertising. In the ad, a woman with a British accent said: "You know what, plenty of guys have this issue… If ED is stopping what you started, ask your doctor about Viagra." 

Brands leading the way with a different approach

Advertising options can be limited when trying to market a product many consumers feel uncomfortable talking about, but that has not stopped brands trying to tackle the issue head-on in recent years with humour and enthusiasm.

Poo-Pourri, a product which masks bathroom smells, launched an hilarious ad last year called "Girls don’t poop" which went viral on YouTube.

Meanwhile Squatty Potty, a toilet accessory stool, used a unicorn creating ice cream to demonstrate correct seating technique.

And, during this year’s Super Bowl, a spot for Opioid-Induced Constipation caused a Twitter storm after depicting a man walking through a city looking enviously at other people and animals enjoying going to the bathroom.

Follow @OmarOakes

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