It’s time to put the brakes on pharmaceutical ads

Warning: The following entry contains a very bad word.

Am I the only one who’s sick of sitting in front of the TV and seeing an advertisement for one of the erectile dysfunction (ED) treatments in every commercial break? I mean, the four-hour erection warning was cute once, but it’s turned into another American ad embarrassment, so let’s call it off. Fifty years ago, liquor manufacturers voluntarily agreed not to advertise on television, and few people remember, “Winston tastes good like a cigarette should.” So whether it’s voluntary or government forced, let’s get these things off the air.

Why? I’m no prude, but I hate the “wink-wink” with which these ads are delivered. Nobody’s fooling anybody here. This isn’t about helping a medical condition (although that’s the way it began); it’s about improving the sex lives of people who don’t really need their sex lives improved. The entire campaign is disingenuous and panders to the basest elements of human nature. And what gives such a greedy business the right to force erection discussions with little Johnny — or worse, force Johnny to experiment and learn on his own?

Nobody likes spam, but one caught my attention the other day. There it was — right in the message header — in plain English: FUCK LIKE A GOD! Well, I’ll be! Truth in advertising for a change! The Levitra ads no longer even reference erectile dysfunction, but they do talk about the four hour complication. Their ads are now about the “quality” of the experience — a nice, tender way of saying, “Come on, guys. Now you can fuck like a god!”

And little Johnny, caught up in the whole “wink-wink” business, breaks into daddy’s Viagra bottle instead of the liquor cabinet. These drugs are too new to have any reliable determinations about long-term side effects, but trust me, that’s coming. What happens when Johnny gets married to some young thing who’s enamored with his god-like attributes and discovers that he can’t, er, perform without the drugs? (“Well, Terry, cough cough, you have no, cough cough, proof to sustain, cough cough, such allegations.”)

According to the National Ambulatory Medical Care Survey in 1999, approximately 22 out of every 1000 men in the United States sought medical attention for ED. (That’s .02% of the population) Estimates vary, but most of the literature today suggests that between 15 and 30 million American men suffer from the malady. It’s a serious matter for these men, most of them older, but they are not the target of the pharmaceutical companies.

Was anybody else embarrassed when Cialis sponsored an event on the PGA Tour?

Just because somebody has the money to advertise, doesn’t mean they should do so. This is increasingly the issue with the pharmaceutical companies, and nothing shines a light on it like these particular ads.

Perhaps my feelings are such because I’m a man, and I watch a lot of programming that men like to watch. Consequently, I see more of these ads that the average person. Yeah, that’s it, wink-wink.


  1. Terry, it’s not just these incredibly annoying Viagara/Levitra/Cialis ads. Damn, should I really know the names of drugs for ED treatments when only .02% of the population actually suffer from ED? That’s not ethical. Period. The public simply fails to call the drug companies on their ethics in marketing. I’ll pick another drug that’s a bete noir for me: Nexium. There is absolutely NO way that my children should be able to name by brand any prescription drug for the treatment of GERD (gastro-esophageal reflux disease). Maybe they should be able to name an OTC treatment for heartburn, but they shouldn’t be asking me whether we can get “the purple pill”. That’s an oversaturation of the marketplace — at the long-term risk of affecting the public’s perception of the appropriateness of drug therapy. My children shouldn’t think, “Hey, I have heartburn, I’ll get a prescription” or when they are young adults, “Hey, I’ll get Viagara and party all night”, when their first response should be assessing their dietary habits or lifestyle. Totally, completely unethical. Excess marketing is one of the biggest reasons that American drug costs are so high compared to other countries, too.

    Sorry about the rant — but the repercussions here are enormous.

  2. All good points, Rayne. Thanks for the comment.

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