OPINION: Mills on ... the Impotence Association

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

different ads.

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?

Become a member of Campaign from just £46 a quarter

Get the very latest news and insight from Campaign with unrestricted access to campaignlive.co.uk ,plus get exclusive discounts to Campaign events

Become a member

Looking for a new job?

Get the latest creative jobs in advertising, media, marketing and digital delivered directly to your inbox each day.

Create an Alert Now

Partner content