Move to Legislate ED Ads Is Governmental Overreaction

An Ad Age Editorial

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For the second time in four years, U.S. Rep. Jim Moran, D-Va., has introduced legislation aiming to ban erectile-dysfunction and male-performance-enhancement brands from advertising on TV between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m. His reasoning: The ads are "indecent."

The ads are only indecent if your definition of indecency includes schmaltzy videos of fully-clothed, middle-age couples dancing, holding hands or shooting each other mysterious looks, which are presumably meant to be of the "come-hither" variety.

The only thing remotely lewd about the spots is the comically deadpan voice-over advising you to check whether you're fit enough to partake in sexual activity and consulting your doctor if you experience an erection lasting more than four hours. Those warnings are required by the FDA, so perhaps the Mr. Moran should be talking to his government colleagues there about whether these warnings are mitigating risks or helping the drug companies sell their product.

What Mr. Moran really means is that the ads make some adults uncomfortable if they're watching TV with their kids. In that respect, he's simply protecting consumers who don't have an ad-skipping device or a remote-control trigger finger from having to discuss human reproduction with their children.

That's a reasonable cause for concern. It does seem unfair that a DVR-less parent can't watch baseball with his 5-year-old without being asked about the appropriate duration of the male erection.

But legislation is not only an overreaction, it sets a dangerous precedent. What's next: Do feminine-hygiene ads make you uncomfortable? What about those ads for home-security systems that prey on you and your children's worst fears about an intruder?

Here we have yet another example of a legislator legislating when opening a dialogue with the companies in question might be just as effective. The fact is that advertising in family programming is pretty poor targeting for them anyway, given their older demographic.

And if we're talking about opening a dialogue with the drug companies, we might focus on encouraging them to more evenly distribute their consumer-marketing budgets. If you ask us, the real tragedy of ED ads is that they're backed by such big budgets, when other less-profitable products -- often focused on conditions where advertising could really help raise awareness and boost screening -- are left with little or no ad money.

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