Levitra, Viagra Launch New Ad Campaigns

The Associated Press
Tuesday, May 2, 2006; 5:58 PM

NEW YORK -- Sex sells, yet the racy ads that introduced erectile dysfunction drugs were more successful at raising public outrage than sales.

Levitra and Viagra now have new campaigns that forego the provocative in favor of depicting erectile dysfunction as a medical condition, not simply a lifestyle concern. The commercials are a recognition of the prior approach's failure to expand the market, as well new guidelines adopted by the industry in January to address critics' concerns and improve ads' accuracy.

Viagra's new ad, launched on Monday, leads with a frisky couple, then a doctor surfaces to explain the drug's risk and benefits. Levitra's commercials, which have been airing since March, focus on how diabetes and high blood pressure can lead to erectile dysfunction. Meanwhile, a Cialis campaign started in January but it similar to earlier efforts focused on its ability to last for 36 hours.

The more clinical approach has won kudos from some experts although no one is sure if that will translate to higher sales. Revenues have fallen short of expectations and growth was flat last year as two of the drugs makers cut back on ad spending while revising their messages.

Roughly 30 million men over the age of 40 suffer from some kind of erectile dysfunction in the United States, leading many to believe the market for impotency pills would explode when Cialis and Levitra joined the category in 2003. That never happened so now some analysts and doctors are wondering whether the market will grow or just sink into a three-way slug fest for market share.

Last year, the U.S. market for the drugs was flat at $1.4 billion, according to IMS Health, a health care information company. Viagra's total sales slumped 2 percent last year to $1.6 billion after falling 11 percent in 2004. Sales of Levitra and Cialis, which is sold by Eli Lilly & Co. and ICOS Corp. rose but they were coming off a much lower base and grabbed market share from Viagra.

"I think the market is pretty well defined," said Barbara Ryan, an analyst at Deutsche Bank. "There are many reasons people don't have sex. Maybe they have relationship dysfunction. Sex goes beyond just getting an erection."

Recognizing that not all men with erectile dysfunction want to have sex or have a willing partner, Viagra's maker Pfizer estimates the true market size at about 15 million men. One doctor puts the number at 10 million men.

Last year, total spending on advertising for erectile dysfunction ads fell 41 percent to $241 million, according to TNS Media Intelligence. Much of the drop can be attributed to a lack of Viagra TV ads and only half a year of commercials for Levitra.

Regulators asked Pfizer to stop running its Viagra campaign in November of 2004 because it violated several regulations. Levitra TV ads ended in May 2005 so the approach could be retooled, said Nancy Leone, a spokeswoman for GlaxoSmithKline PLC, which markets the drug along with Schering-Plough Corp.

Regardless of the market size, these drugs have to be advertised because demand is almost totally driven by consumers. A doctor may not ask a patient about erectile dysfunction as part of a routine physical, unless a patient brings up the issue.

"There is limited time in an exam room and it may not be a priority (for the doctor)," said Dr. Timothy Schuster, assistant professor urology at the University of Michigan.

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