Viagra rival: Bayer, Glaxo unveil Levitra ads with Ditka

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Less than a month after securing Food and Drug Administration approval for its erectile dysfunction drug Levitra, pharmaceutical company partners Bayer and GlaxoSmithKline officially unveiled "Tackling Men's Health," a national education program.

Piggy-backing off its sponsorship deal with the National Football League, the campaign features former NFL player and coach Mike Ditka. Known as a tough guy during both his playing and coaching careers, Mr. Ditka plays off that reputation to encourage men to visit their doctor.

"I'm not embarrassed by coming out and saying I have ED," Mr. Ditka said. "If you have a problem, you seek a solution."

Levitra is the first rival to Pfizer's ultra-successful drug Viagra, which had a five-year head start in the erectile dysfunction category and $1.74 billion in sales last year. Bayer and GSK co-market Levitra. Quantum Group, Parsippany, N.J., part of WPP Group's CommonHealth, handles the creative account.

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"Tackling Men's Health" is part of an estimated $50 million ad campaign for Levitra that includes the drug's three-year, $18 million sponsorship with the NFL. Components of the campaign include a dedicated Web site (tacklingmenshealth.com); an 18-page "Playbook" that covers a range of men's health issues; public service-type announcements to air during the season at several NFL stadiums; and Mr. Ditka himself on a promotional tour to NFL markets.

Bayer and GSK are aggressively advertising the drug. Purposefully or not, a Levitra print ad has appeared on a phone kiosk on the corner of Third Ave. and 42nd St. in New York City, where Pfizer's headquarters are located. The pharmaceutical companies also took individual sponsorships for Levitra with eight NFL teams that include signage at their respective stadiums.

But to make a dent in Viagra's sales and reputation, the partner companies are banking on two sets of numbers: the estimated 120 million fans who watch NFL games each week, and the 80% of men who suffer from some form of erectile dysfunction but fail to seek medical help.

"One hundred and twenty million fans ... that's a unique opportunity to reach a lot of men with an important message," said David Pernock, senior VP, GlaxoSmith-Kline U.S. Pharmaceuticals.

That, and the claim that Levitra works in as little as 16 minutes, where Viagra takes about an hour. Both drugs will have yet another competitor when Eli Lilly's Cialis, expected to receive FDA approval later this year, hits the market. Cialis' claim of differentiation is that it lasts longer than both Viagra and Levitra.

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