Pfizer seeks to put some Elvis into Viagra&s share of voice

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Three years after the FDA yanked its "Wild Thing" ads off the air, Pfizer is again taking a playful approach with a Viagra TV spot riffing on the Elvis hit "Viva Las Vegas." And this time, they got the agency's OK in advance.

The 60-second spot by McCann Erickson, which debuted on last night's NBC Nightly News, features a band of forty- and fiftysomething-looking men at a roadhouse bar playing "Viva Viagra."

As the narrator wraps up the risk information and the band delivers the chorus, one of them is shown roaring off on a motorcycle.

Pfizer said the buoyant spot tested better than ads focusing more on the disease. "The goal of these ads is to take that upbeat tone and positive approach and motivate men to engage in dialogue with their physicians," said Pfizer spokesman Francisco Gebauer. "It's extremely motivating." Forty percent more, to be precise, than the more reserved spots Pfizer tested it against.

The ads drew immediate fire from the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, which has waged a campaign against Pfizer for what it alleges are efforts to promote the drug for recreational use. "Pfizer has always been committed to the appropriate use of Viagra,” said Gebauer. “That's why we always encourage men to see their physicians."

Print ads complementing the TV spots will follow later in the year.

In November, 2004, the FDA, under fire for its handling of the recently-withdrawn Vioxx, ordered Pfizer to pull a spot that showed a couple of a certain age lingerie shopping and asked: "Remember that guy they used to call 'Wild Thing?'" The agency said the spot, in which animated blue horns sprout from the man's salt-and-pepper head, falsely suggested that the drug could restore users to a youthful state of arousal and vigor.

Since then, Pfizer has run more circumspect work, including an unbranded TV campaign featuring sexpert Dr. Drew Pinsky that launched in late 2005 and a May 2006 branded spot, dubbed "Sports Recording," offsetting the obligatory frisky couple with a white-coated doctor deadpanning risk information.  

Viagra continues to command more than half the US market for ED treatments, but Pfizer has seen its share eroded by newer drugs – particularly Lilly's Cialis. Viagra boasted 56.6% of the US market for the first nine months of 2006, according to IMS Health, while Cialis boasted 27% and Levitra had 13.3%. Pfizer says there's plenty of room for growth in the category, pointing to studies showing that half of men over 40 suffer from ED. But Viagra sales have been flat, while Cialis and Levitra are posting solid sales growth.

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