Viagra Tries More Direct Approach To Get Rise Out of Men

New Work From BBDO Favors Pep Talk From Woman Over Metaphor

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After relying for more than two years on metaphorical ads featuring older gents using horses to get their trucks out of the mud or figuring how to get the factory works un-clogged, Viagra is trying a more direct approach: Having a woman encourage men to get treatment for erectile dysfunction.

The new spot from BBDO, New York, breaking today shows a fortysomething woman with a British accent and slinky dress saying: "You know what, plenty of guys have this issue." She adds: "If ED is stopping what you started, ask your doctor about Viagra." Then she exits the waterfront bed she's been lying on for an Rx-advertising-standard stroll on the beach.

Pfizer has previously relied on the "Age of Knowing" campaign started by prior agency McGarryBowen, the most recent version featuring a fishing-boat captain. But the new "Looking Up" ad featuring the female pitchwoman represents a new creative direction from BBDO, which took over the account last year.

Viagra's approach since the erectile-dysfunction drug was launched in 1998 has been mainly about "subtle innuendo," said Victor Clavelli, VP-marketing of Pfizer.

"No one has taken directly the perspective of a partner and used that as a way to motivate men," Mr. Clavelli said. "We think we're doing that here."

"This is an example of a very simple, straightforward story well told via an execution that I would say uses direct, honest, compassionate approach to simply let men with ED know they are not alone," said John Osborn, president of BBDO, New York. "It was our belief that this approach would put men at ease."

Because of the subject matter, erectile dysfunction drug ads have a long history of provoking parody. So is that a problem, or just a conversation extender that supplies free publicity?

"We are intending to create conversation, not parody per se," Mr. Osborn said.

"Viagra is a product that captures the imagination of the country," Mr. Clavelli said. TV ads have been a very effective vehicle, he said, "because people listen."

Pfizer spent $176 million on measured media last year on Viagra, according to Kantar Media, largely on sports broadcasts, and that shows no sign of letting up. It's also been a major advertiser during NFL broadcasts, at least in pre- and post-game in recent weeks, according to iSpot.tv.

Asked if the league's domestic-abuse controversy is a concern, Mr. Clavelli said: "The number-one thing that drives our choice about where to advertise is that erectile dysfunction is an adult conversation. We're very careful to ensure the audiences are overwhelmingly adults." The demographic composition of the audience rather than the NFL controversy, he said, is the brand's primary criterion.

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