Viagra introduces its latest celebrity backer: the devil

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The Independent US

Gone are the days when coyness ruled the marketing of the drug that helps the condition that men find hard to talk about. In a Madison Avenue dream situation, Viagra is facing some stiff competition in a three-way battle for the erectile dysfunction dollar.

Gone are the days when coyness ruled the marketing of the drug that helps the condition that men find hard to talk about. In a Madison Avenue dream situation, Viagra is facing some stiff competition in a three-way battle for the erectile dysfunction dollar.

For Pfizer, the giant pharmaceuticals firm that gave us the lozenge-shaped pill, prudishness worked while it had a 100 per cent monopoly on the market. At its launch six years ago, Viagra was touted by, among others, Bob Dole, the former Republican senator and presidential candidate, whose second name was never Casanova.

But the ride got tougher for Pfizer a year ago when two competitors appeared on the landscape with their own versions of the drug, Cialis and Levitra. In recent months, Pfizer has watched its market share soften. It has responded with a new advertising agency and a new campaign on television and in print media.

Conceived by the advertising giant McCann Erickson Worldwide, the $100m (£55m) campaign goes under the slogan "Get back to mischief". And thatmischief is the devil's business. Hence, the horns, stylised in the form of the V of Viagra, that sprout from the heads of men who appear in the new commercials.

The first in a new series of television advertisements now airing in the US features a husband shopping with his wife, dutifully standing by as she browses the shoe shelves. Up go the horns when they switch their gaze to the lingerie section. "Remember that guy who used to be called Wild Thing?" an announcer asks. "The guy who wanted to spend the entire honeymoon indoors? Remember the one who couldn't resist a little mischief? Yeah, that guy. He's back." It ends with the sober admonition, "Ask your doctor if Viagra is right for you."

Keeping its previous buttoned-down approach became less viable once the maker of Cialis, Lilly Icos, bought premium time in the Super Bowl broadcast last February with an ad featuring a late-middle aged couple in adjoining hot-tubs touching fingers. The announcer asked, "Will you be ready?"

Critics may counter that the drug makers are still dancing too delicately around the real message of their campaigns: sex is possible for guys with fickle equipment. However, they are also wary of appearing to encourage consumption of their pills for reasons other than erectile dysfunction.

Recent research has shown a huge rise in consumption of Viagra, especially among men aged from 18 to 45. While the numbers using Viagra for straightforward medical reasons has begun to slide, the research shows a 312 per cent jump in sales to men who are using the pill just for fun.

This has given rise to another problem: the growing availability of fake Viagra pills, some of which can pose a risk to those who use it and which are mostly marketed illegally via the internet.Pfizer has recently taken legal action to close down a series of Viagra-touting websites, including one based in Britain.

Meanwhile, McCann Erickson is enjoying the attention its new Viagra ads are generating. Simon Hunter, a senior vice-president for the firm in America, told The New York Times: "What we're trying to dramatise is that a man doesn't have to compromise between the loving relationship he has now and being the 'wild guy' he was in his youth. He doesn't have to swap the self-esteem of maturity for youthful erections."

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