Crusaders against TV indecency somehow overlook offensive drug ads, which are becoming more ubiquitous with the onslaught of new anti-impotence drugs.Ever notice that when politicians talk about “indecency” in the media, they focus on shock jocks or edgy sitcoms? When ordinary viewers complain about tasteless TV, however, I find they’re talking about those omnipresent drug commercials with their endless dissertations on hemorrhoids, bowel dysfunction, acid reflux and urinary leakage. These ad onslaughts always seem to occur at meal time and are accompanied by obligatory recitations of potential side effects, which usually include hemorrhoids, bowel dysfunction, acid reflux and urinary leakage. Not to mention that most delightful of all symptoms — dementia. I mention all this only because the pharmaceutical advertising wars are about to open a new front. More than $300 million has been earmarked by the three archenemies of impotence, and their campaigns aspire to new levels of shrill ubiquity. The products involved are Levitra, Cialis and Viagra, and they’re chasing what is projected to be a $6 billion-a-year market. That’s a big target. Get ready for the worst. Let me first remind you that it was our ever-protective government that initially unleashed the torrent of drug ads on us by reducing risk-warnings to a verbal blur. When the Food and Drug Administration relaxed ad regulations in 1997, the drug companies’ TV ad spending tripled in two years to $2.5 billion. Viewed from the standpoint of showbiz, the first generation of erectile advertising was only semi-excruciating. How can you relax in front of your TV set when a surly Mike Ditka is pointing a finger at you, as though you’d just dropped a pass? Stuart Elliott, who covers Madison Avenue for the New York Times, assures us that the next generation of campaigns will be downright cool. The Cialis commercials depict a couple relaxing in their bathtub — separate bathtubs actually — with the ominous question “Will he be ready?” The suggestion is that he’ll be more than ready: Cialis claims to deliver a 36-hour window compared with the flaccid four-hour span offered by its two rivals. With a promise like that, he’d better be ready. Pfizer, which produces Viagra (still the market leader), has opted to emphasize the end results rather than the uneasy preparations. Its new ads show a middle-aged man jumping for joy like an exultant third-grader as he’s congratulated by co-workers. All the while “We Are the Champions” plays in the background like some sort of erectile anthem. The suggestion that satisfied Viagra users wander around their offices telling colleagues that they’re now stand-up guys might strike some as far-fetched. Levitra is taking a less theatrical approach. “Quality when it counts” is its new slogan. This low-key message, says the company, will assuage those women who feel that “there are three people in bed — the man, the woman and the pill.” Irrespective of these tactics, all three products are still prescription drugs and hence must include the customary blurred warnings of headaches, heart attacks, panic attacks, etc. Most alarming is the admonition that if your appendage is still standing after four hours, you should immediately rush to the hospital — a stressful journey under the circumstances. No matter what artifices are introduced, the underlying fact is that no one really wants to see these commercials. The technicalities of male plumbing are about as unromantic as the list of side effects. Indeed, the fusillade of new commercials will only underscore the dirty little secrets of the erection business. For one thing, the real market for these products goes far beyond those poor souls suffering from impotence, but rather to all those young guys who regard these products as sex toys. Recreation represents the real upside of the business. Sure, Viagra and its competitors may help some retirees who have given up on sex. But think of all those nice old biddies who were perfectly happy to be post-coital, and who joined the AARP because they thought it stood for the American Assn. of Retired Penises. Now along comes a product offering a 36-hour window? I can hear voices all over Sun City shouting, “Shut that damn window.” I realize there’s no hope of banishing drug commercials, but can’t the networks at least keep them away from dinnertime? There should be a safety zone when you’ll be protected from talk of diarrhea, vaginitis — and 36-hour windows. Let the politicians fret about the shock jocks; at least the rest of us may have our moments of peace.
- Triptyk Studios, New York, New York
- Petrol Advertising, Burbank, California
- Bridgewater Associates, Westport, Connecticut
- Company Confidential, Aspen, Colorado
- Save the Children, Fairfield, Connecticut