You couldn't have missed Viagra's (sildenafil) "Devil" campaign. It's the one where the "V" in the Viagra logo turns into
a pair of devil's horns atop a middle-aged man's head. Well, FDA didn't miss it either. Back in November 2004, the agency
sent Pfizer a warning letter stating that its reminder ads for Viagra lacked risk information.
Amy Lynn Tobbagi
Some executives were taken aback. Of course the ad didn't include risk information, they reasoned. The spots were reminder
ads, and in keeping with FDA regulation, they promoted only a product's name, without including the product's benefits or
risks. But because Viagra had become so well known—the Kleenex of the erectile dysfunction (ED) category—FDA felt the ads
were promoting the ED indication without the appropriate risk information.
"The problem becomes, with a name so powerful and obvious, if you don't mention the risk factors, patients are not getting
what they need," says Herb Ehrenthal, vice president, advertising and marketing communications for Schering-Plough.
Brand breakdown Some pharmaceutical marketers consider reminder ads an important part of the media mix. Spots like this
Zelnorm commercial prompt patients to ask their doctors about the product, and remind them to take their medications or go
to the drug's website for more information. They also help instill brand recognition among consumers, which makes TV advertising
a cost-effective buy.
Part of the educational value of DTC comes with a candid representation of the risk information for the drug. In the wake
of Vioxx, some industry observers say FDA is questioning if reminder ads can fulfill that goal. Certainly, the tactic has
come under more scrutiny: Reminder ads that went beyond the regulated intent were the most common violation in 2004, according
to Thomas Abrams, director of FDA's Division of Drug Marketing, Advertising and Communications.
fda watch With Celebrex, I play the long version," says a female voiceover in this Celebrex reminder ad. Such comments can
bother consumers—and FDA—because they tend to confuse more than they inform. Reminder ads that went beyond the regulated
intent were the most common violation by pharma companies in 2004, according to DDMAC.
"DTC should be educational," says Abrams. "It creates the question: Can it be a reminder ad if consumers don't know what the
drug is for?"