Forget sunny skies and innuendos: Doctors now dominate pharma ads

Pfizer, other drugmakers put focus on medical experts in latest spots

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What was once a throwaway disclaimer in direct-to-consumer advertising-"See Your Doctor"-now has a starring role.

When Pfizer introduced its newest branding work for Viagra last week, the 60-second spot from McCann Erickson followed the latest trend hitting DTC: the use of doctors, real or portrayed, in commercials. Why? Because it works.

In a presentation April 26 at the DTC National Conference in Washington, Angela Federici, senior VP-pharmaceutical practice leader at research giant Millward Brown, offered up data and research that showed doctor-oriented ads are as motivating to consumers, if not slightly more so, than what she called "beauty shot" pharma ads.

"Keep in mind, it's only been four months," Ms. Federici said of the in-market research and copy testing. "But the new-style ads are just as enjoyable, just as engaging to viewers and just as easy to understand."

Johnson & Johnson fueled the trend last year as a way of making risk information more prominent in its ads. Its spot for the Ortho Evra birth control patch showed a patient-doctor consultation. Now the rest of the industry has followed. In the last year alone, Merck's Zetia, AstraZeneca's Toprol and GlaxoSmithKline's Coreg and Imitrex have all featured doctors in commercials.

the 'sports recording'

Pfizer had already adopted the practice, using Dr. Robert Jarvik-inventor of the artificial heart-in its latest ads for Lipitor.

In its new Viagra ad called "Sports Recording"-the first branded spots for Pfizer's erectile dysfunction drug in more than a year following two unbranded campaigns-it uses a mixed approach. The spot shows a man watching a baseball game while seated on a sofa next to his wife. She gets up, walks in front of him, then behind him and puts her arm on his shoulder. He turns around to see her heading upstairs while giving him a suggestive look. The man then pops in videotape to record the game and joins his wife.

But that's just the first half of the commercial. In the second half, a doctor in a white coat is shown delivering the risk information.

A Pfizer spokeswoman said the company used the physician to "responsibly present both benefit and risk information so men can have an informed discussion with their doctor."

The spot adheres to Pfizer's own internal policies regarding DTC advertising. It indirectly refers to competitors Levitra and Cialis when the doctor in the spot says, "Viagra is one of several ED treatments you and your doctor can consider."
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