Pfizer Inc.: Viagra Launch campaign

Mark Lane


In March 1998 Pfizer Inc., the world's largest research-based pharmaceutical company, won FDA approval of its anti-impotency drug, Viagra. Because of the nature of the condition it was meant to treat, Viagra came to market that April amid a frenzy of publicity, much of which mocked impotency and its treatment. Though the publicity helped Viagra to reach record-setting sales figures before any advertising appeared on behalf of the drug, Pfizer wanted to exert control over the Viagra image. After waiting for the media buzz to wane, the company, along with health-care advertising agency Cline, Davis & Mann of New York, broke its first ads supporting the drug's launch in late June 1998.

The first series of ads, having an estimated price tag of $25 million, were branded print spots featuring older dancing couples and the tagline "Let the Dance Begin." These were followed, in the spring of 1999, by a television commercial featuring former senator and presidential candidate Bob Dole speaking frankly about his experience with erectile dysfunction, as impotence came to be known. The Dole spot, which did not mention Viagra, was complemented by TV versions of the "Let the Dance Begin" ads, which, though they used the Viagra name, included no dialogue or explanation of the product's use. By sidestepping a full explanation and identification of Viagra in these two different ways, Pfizer was able to avoid an FDA-ordered listing of the drug's side effects. The cost of the 1999 television campaign was estimated at $35 million, and the TV spots were supported by the ongoing print segment of the campaign.