Are Viagra and Cialis leaving TV advertising? Report forecasts end of ED era on NFL football

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Pfizer's Viagra, along with competitor Eli Lilly's Cialis, will no longer air TV ads during NFL football, according to a report.

Is it the end of a controversial era? Erectile dysfunction ads will no longer be seen during televised NFL football games, according to a report in Advertising Age.

Neither Pfizer’s Viagra nor Eli Lilly’s Cialis will likely air TV ads during the NFL season; neither one bought fall football time in the recent upfronts, unnamed media insiders told the publication. Viagra ads have not aired on TV since May 15, according to data from real-time TV ad tracker iSpot.tv. Cialis, however, is still running a fairly strong TV ad schedule, having spent more than $8 million on TV ads in the last 30 days, according to iSpot.tv. It ranked eighth in pharma ad spending overall for the month of June.

A Pfizer spokesman declined to comment on the possible NFL departure, saying that the company does not disclose any marketing plans for "competitive reasons."

The apparent reason for the football fadeaway is that both drugs will soon lose patent exclusivity, and competition is on the way. A Viagra generic from Teva Pharmaceuticals is expected to hit the market in December.

Both drugmakers have publicly discussed OTC plans for their ED drugs, but even approval wouldn’t guarantee TV advertising. Drugs that move from prescription to OTC tend to drop branded TV advertising in the process, although there are some exceptions, such as in the allergy space, where new-to-OTC drugs such as GSK’s Flonase continued aggressive TV buys with sales success. Pfizer’s Nexium purple pill is another instance of continued branded TV marketing after an OTC switch.

“Pfizer is evaluating a number of prescription drugs for a potential switch to nonprescription status. We are focused on categories that will have the greatest positive impact to people and the healthcare system overall," the spokesman said.

Lilly struck a deal with Sanofi in 2014 to begin work on an OTC Cialis to be marketed by Sanofi in the U.S., Europe, Canada and Australia.

The move away from ED ads on TV is one that possibly only the TV channels and media buyers will mourn. ED commercials have been lampooned and criticized since they began, even though the drugs have proven a solid payday for viewer-bereft TV channels.

Last year, Viagra spent around $31 million on NFL TV ads during the season, while Cialis spent about $22 million, according to iSpot.tv data.