Hearts, flowers & Viagra: Happy Valentine's Day

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Forget about the red box of chocolates. Pfizer wants consumers to say "Happy Valentine's Day" with a little blue pill.

The marketer launches a Valentine's Day campaign Feb. 1 for its Viagra erectile dysfunction drug.

"The approach was to send a sentimental, romantic message at a time when people are receptive to that," said Matt Lane, senior VP-management supervisor at Viagra agency Cline, Davis & Mann, New York.

The print effort highlights an image of Cupid and touts Viagra as an "official sponsor of Valentine's Day." A 30-second TV spot -- which will run on national broadcast and cable TV through Feb. 14 -- features a couple's romantic encounter set to music.

"This February 14 . . . be sweet. . . be playful . . . be my Valentine," reads the on-screen text.

Pfizer continues to rely on Viagra's extraordinary brand recognition in its direct-to-consumer marketing, which generated more than $73 million in measured media in the first 10 months of 1999, according to Competitive Media Reporting. The new effort mentions the Viagra name in ads but not what the drug is used to treat, allowing the marketer to avoid including a list of any possible side effects in the spot.

PRINT STARTS IN MARCH

The new Viagra campaign comes in advance of a separate national print effort set to break in March. Ads will feature the new tagline "Love life again" and target a range of prospective users ages 40 and up.

Also this spring, Pfizer will phase out its branded effort featuring dancing couples and the tagline "Let the dance begin."

The new work is part of Pfizer's continuing effort to broaden the drug's target market. The marketer has stopped using unbranded ads that featured Sen. Bob Dole; those ads may have associated the drug with older users.

Last fall, Pfizer launched "Faces of ED," another unbranded campaign that featured men from a variety of backgrounds and age groups.

By linking Viagra to Valentine's Day, Pfizer joins a trend toward DTC marketing that's becoming increasingly similar to traditional consumer marketing. Other marketers making that move include Schering-Plough Corp., which linked Claritin with Major League Baseball last fall, and Glaxo Wellcome, which this winter is using "Seinfeld" actor Wayne Knight in ads for its Relenza flu remedy.

"You can see a general shift of the pharmaceutical industry -- trying to become more creative with their advertisements, getting away from that monotone dialogue," said John Fezzuoglio, marketing research analyst at consultancy Scott-Levin.

Viagra continues to be a hot seller for Pfizer, posting more than $1 billion in sales last year.

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