Pfizer ($PFE) is no stranger to controversy when it comes to Viagra advertising. So a fresh round of criticism aimed at its latest campaign may not be a surprise--but in the age of social media, the critics aren't just telling their friends or writing angry letters. They're complaining to the online universe.
Pfizer's latest commercial features an attractive blond on the beach, with a British accent to boot. She's not shy about specifying the problem Viagra aims to address. The woman looks directly into the camera and reassures men that "plenty of guys have this issue, not just getting an erection, but keeping it."
And that's why the hashtag #viagracommercial has seen so much play on Twitter over the past couple of weeks, with Viagra sponsoring this year's Major League Baseball postseason.
"Side effects of watching the #MLBPlayoffs could include a premature need to have The Talk with your son," one user tweeted. "When are we going to remove these #ED commercials from TV? I don't think they're appropriate for prime time," another said. Other tweets called the ad "way too graphic for family programming," "offensive in every way" and "kind of a punk move."
As Pfizer veteran John LaMattina points out, Viagra advertising has come a long way since Bob Dole first signed on as a spokesman in late 1998. In the first-ever TV commercials for the drug, Dole--a former U.S. Senator, war hero and prostate-cancer patient--stressed the importance of the med for his fellow cancer survivors.
The latest generation of ads crosses a line, LaMattina suggests in a Forbes column. To his mind, the new ad should be dropped. "People feel that their privacy is invaded when these ads appear during a program," he wrote.
It's not the first time Pfizer's Viagra ads have stirred up complaints from concerned parents, of course. Several years ago, a parents group lobbied Pfizer and Cialis maker Eli Lilly ($LLY) to keep ED ads out of prime time. No can do, the companies said, but they did start working to provide the Parents Television Council with schedules detailing when their spots would air--allowing those who wished to to avoid them.
But some, like LaMattina, say that's not enough. "I believe that the biggest problem the biopharmaceutical industry faces today is restoring its reputation. While we can debate the impact of TV ads on the industry's reputation, I find it hard to believe that the latest Viagra TV campaign is helping to 'earn the trust and respect'" of constituents, he wrote. "If one truly believes that the industry's reputation is paramount, stop airing the new Viagra commercial."
- see the Forbes piece
Special Report: Top 10 DTC Pharma Advertisers - H1 2013 - Pfizer