AIDS FOUNDATION BLASTS VIAGRA ADS

Characterizes Pfizer as 'Reckless' and 'Irresponsible'

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Pfizer is under fire from the country’s largest AIDS advocacy group, which is claiming that a recent print advertisement for Viagra promoted the erectile dysfunction medication for recreational use and encouraged unsafe sex.

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Michael Weinstein, president of the Los Angeles-based AIDS Healthcare Foundation, said he was outraged that Pfizer would “employ an advertising strategy that encourages the use of Viagra as a ‘party drug.’”

Full-page ad
The full-page ad in question ran in The Wall Street Journal and features the same middle-aged man Pfizer has used in most Viagra ads. Two pieces of the text read, “What are you doing on New Year’s Eve?” and “Fact: Viagra can help guys with all degrees of erectile dysfunction -- from mild to severe.”

The ad has been part of a campaign by Pfizer and Interpublic Group of Cos.’ McCann Erickson, New York, in which it has made timely tweaks to its print messages and ad copy recently. For instance, a Viagra ad run around Thanksgiving said “What are you giving thanks for?”

“Not only does sending this reckless message contribute to the spread of sexually transmitted diseases, but it is also part of a pattern of irresponsible direct-to-consumer advertising by the drug industry,” Mr. Weinstein said in a statement. “Ads for HIV/AIDS drugs often portray living with HIV to be as simple as popping a pill and then it’s a day at the beach, and there is another side to the story that is simply not being told by the drug industry. We urge Pfizer to not only pull these reckless ads that encourage the recreational use of Viagra, but to make a pledge to curb all irresponsible direct-to-consumer advertising -- a practice that is contributing to the spread of disease and placing profit above people’s health.”

Pfizer comment
A Pfizer spokesman said the ads were only directed at men who suffer from ED.

“We’re very active in providing and working with different groups to create materials to emphasize safe sex,” the spokesman said, noting that the company has distributed several brochures -- including a “Do Ask, Do Tell” pamphlet -- and has also funded a Web site, along with the National Coalition of Sexually Transmitted Diseases, that will be online shortly called sexualsmarts.org.

The New Year’s ad included a reminder statement at the bottom in which the company urged Viagra users to “remember to protect yourself and your partner from sexually transmitted diseases.”

AIDS Healthcare Foundation has criticized DTC ads before. In March 2005, in a letter to drug makers that cited what it called “a sense of mistrust from an increasingly anxious public,” the group asked that “all marketing of products and treatment for HIV and AIDS be limited to help-seeking advertisements, which serve to educate consumers about the disease, inform them that treatment is available without pushing a specific therapy, and then direct them to engage a healthcare professional.”

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