Mischief maker

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The newest ads for Viagra put McCann HumanCare, a young unit of Interpublic Group of Cos.' McCann Erickson Worldwide, in the spotlight.

The New York agency, launched in 2003, is charged with keeping Viagra at the top of the increasingly competitive erectile dysfunction market. HumanCare is led by dynamic Exec VP-Managing Director Andrew Schirmer, who joined the operation at its launch, from Omnicom Group's Merkley Newman Harty Healthworks.

Pfizer shifted Viagra to HumanCare last June; Omnicom's Cline, Davis & Mann previously created its U.S. advertising. The latest campaign, titled "He's Back" and themed "Get back to mischief," broke last August. The campaign features a middle-age man sprouting devilish-looking horns (formed from the "V" in Viagra) above his head.

HumanCare also handles other Pfizer brands in U.S., including since August 2003 the account of arthritis drug Bextra. The McCann offshoot is only 11/2 years old, but Pfizer and McCann-Erickson have partnered on various projects for many years. McCann's efforts on Viagra go back to 2000, when Pfizer hired the agency to raise awareness about ED in markets outside the U.S. That work, which began as a small test in Europe, expanded to a global exercise by summer 2001.

TODAY MCCANN'S global efforts on Viagra include direct and interactive work as well as event marketing, an array of communications aimed at consumers as well as physicians. HumanCare handles Pfizer work in conjunction with several sibling units of McCann WorldGroup; between 60 and 80 McCann employees work full time on Viagra.

"The complexity comes in execution," says Simon Hunter, senior VP-group account director at McCann Erickson. Regulations on how drugs are funded and reimbursed vary country by country, as do rules governing communications tactics like direct mail lists. "An awful lot of the process is making sure we have a core team who absolutely understand how to develop" and execute, Mr. Hunter says.

The new "He's Back" Viagra campaign "taps into what men are thinking about now," he says. "There are a range of treatments out there. It is about making sure they get the treatment that is right for them."

But at the same time, some critics of Viagra's effort say it jumps on the bandwagon of promoting an ED medication as a lifestyle drug. "I'm not used to seeing Pfizer react to something going on in the marketplace," says an executive familiar with the pharmaceutical giant.

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