Viagra’s Ads Start Targeting Consumers Who Can Never Use It

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Viagra commercials have historically shown middle-age men doing manly things – like construction work or deep-sea fishing – to convey the tacit message that taking pills for erectile dysfunction doesn’t make you any less of a man. But now, that’s changing. On television shows including “CSI,” “Blue Bloods” and “48 Hours,” and in magazines including Esquire and Time, Viagra advertising will target a new audience, reported September 30. It’s an audience, moreover, that has no physical cause to ever take Viagra: Women.

But according to Dr. Irwin Goldstein, director of the San Diego Sexual Medicine Center, women suffer from impotence as much as their men do. They’re often more upset than their man, he said, often lose interest in sex and find it painful. Women also make the majority of household health care decisions. And they can be very, very good at nagging – not that the latest Viagra commercial does any of that.

Technically, it’s  a 60-second spot, but fully half of it is taken up by federally mandated warnings and medical disclaimers. In the rest of it, an attractive blond woman with a British accent lolling on some sort of tropical beach says, “So guys, it’s just you and your honey. The setting is perfect. But then erectile dysfunction happens again. You know what? Plenty of guys have this issue – not just getting an erection, but keeping it. Well, Viagra helps guys with ED get and keep an erection. And you only take it when you need it…If ED’s stopping what you started, ask your doctor about Viagra.” The objective of both the television and the print ads, writes Linda Johnson, is to “nudge women to broach the subject with their mates.”

The strategy may not be as crazy as it sounds, for several very good marketing reasons. One is that after nearly two decades of advertising, Viagra and its competitors still have relatively little market penetration. With about half of all men over 40 suffering from occasional or chronic ED but only 10 percent taking medication for it, there’s certainly plenty of room for, er, growth.

And Pfizer, the manufacturer of Viagra, has a limited time to take advantage of it. That’s because, as a patented prescription drug, Viagra’s biological clock is ticking. When its European patents expired 13 months ago, generic competitors stepped in, causing last year’s sales to wilt by 8 percent. When the US patents run out in 2017, generic competitors will likely produce a similar softening of their market share here.

Hence the unorthodox, first-time tactics – talking to women and actually using the word “erection” on television – to raise brand loyalty enough to overcome substantially lower-priced competition. “It’s definitely a unique strategy,” said Edward Jones health care analyst Ashtyn Evans. “The more people they can get loyal to their brand, the better.” But, as Esquared Asset Management health care portfolio manager Les Funtleyder pointed out, a unique strategy isn’t necessarily a successful one. “I’m not sure it will result in more sales,” he said.

Either way, Viagra’s new advertising will certainly stand out in its category. Which it needs to do, because multiplying that less-than-10 percent market penetration in less than three years will be pretty hard to do.


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