FDA: Protecting You From Blue Balls


In the most compelling evidence yet that the Decade of the Penis is long gone, the Food and Drug Administration has ordered Pfizer to cancel its "Wild Thing" Viagra ads—the ones with the middle-age-crazy douchebag whose head grows a set of cuckold's horns that turn into the letter V (for "Viagra," I assume).

In her letter to Pfizer, FDA Regulatory Review Officer/TV Critic Christine Hemler Smith says the erectile dysfunction drug is not all the commercial cracks it up to be:

The TV ads claim that Viagra will provide a return to a previous level of sexual desire and activity. They refer to the sexually active past of the man (e.g., "Remember that guy who used to be called 'Wild Thing'?") and then declare "He's back," implying that, by taking Viagra, he has returned to that previous level of sexual desire and activity. FDA is not aware of substantial evidence or substantial clinical experience demonstrating this benefit for patients who take Viagra. If you have data substantiating this claim, please submit them to FDA for review.

This reading strikes me as being almost as literal-minded as Lionel Hutz's false-advertising suit against the film The Neverending Story, as does Smith's objection that the ad fails to specify what condition Viagra is intended to treat (though the objection that the ad fails to spell out potential side effects seems legitimate under the current rules of engagement). From Smith's close reading:

"Remember that guy who used to be called 'Wild Thing?'" (Man watching wife examine high-heeled shoe in store)
"The guy who wanted to spend the entire honeymoon indoors?" (Man looking at high-heeled shoe in store)
"Remember the one who couldn't resist a little mischief?" (Man gazing at black bra, panties, and negligee in store window)…

I guess it's possible you might misinterpret the idea of "mischief" (he might be planning to shoplift the bra and panties for an undisclosed personal reason), but note that Smith assumes the woman with Wild Thing is in fact his wife—an assumption that can be inferred though not proven from the context. With approximately 108 percent of the population already aware of Viagra's purpose, won't a similar inference will be made here? In fact, "reminder" ads like this one are designed for situations where product awareness is nearly universal and the manufacturer is just trying to keep the name in circulation.

In an interesting Wall Street Journal article (not online), Scott Hensley and Suzanne Vranica place the Wild Thing spot in the context of Viagra's plummeting sales (under pressure from GlaxoSmithKline's Levitra and Eli Lilly and Co.'s Cialis, which is supposed to be longer-acting) and product maturity. Glaxo and Lilly are each spending nearly twice as much on advertising as Pfizer. (By my estimate, Lilly is spending all of its $101 million semi-annual budget on spam.)

In its third-quarter earnings report, Pfizer laid out its Wild Thing strategy:

Pfizer has launched a new global positioning for Viagra, focusing on what men really want from their erectile-dysfunction medication: rapid and sustained erections for better sex. This positioning provides healthcare professionals and consumers with data showing Viagra's ability to deliver unique functional and emotional benefits and provide overall patient and partner satisfaction. As part of this new direction, Pfizer has launched a fresh U.S. advertising campaign called "He's Back" that communicates the promise of return to normal sexual function.

All for naught, it seems. According to the Journal, "Wild Thing" isn't performing as well as Pfizer's previous "Bob" ad campaign, about a guy whose co-workers can't figure out why he's always smiling. (In case the FDA's Professor Smith is reading this: Bob is smiling because he's got a hard-on.)