NEW YORK: Pfizer has moved to tackle the issue of counterfeiting – and the resulting threat to one of its leading brands – by rolling out an online home delivery service.

Speaking about Viagra, the erectile dysfunction drug, Lauren Ljubicich, director/marketing at Pfizer, told delegates at the ePharma Summit – an event organised by the Institute for International Research and held in New York this month – that imitations were a big concern.

By way of an indication as to the scale of the problem, Viagra is Pfizer's most-counterfeited drug, and a significant portion of the 24 million online searches for the product each year were routed to illegitimate sites.

Distinguishing between the websites selling the real thing and fakes, Ljubicich continued, is often challenging. (For more, including details of the consumer insights supporting Pfizer's strategy, read Warc's exclusive article: How Viagra used ecommerce to take on the counterfeiters.)

"There's not a huge difference between the two," she asserted – so that even those consumers who were aware of the risks were not immune.

Further adding to the confusion, unapproved digital merchants regularly provided links to "generic" and "real" Viagra – with Pfizer's analysis showing 80% of goods sold under the second of these labels were counterfeit.

Even when the fake pills are delivered, separating reproductions from the genuine article was not easy. In combination, these factors led to many men with legitimate prescriptions ending up with inadequate copies.

And the consequences of this situation were undesirable for a variety of reasons. "It doesn't just hurt us bottom line financially; it impacts our brand," Ljubicich said.

"It wasn't just a business opportunity; it was also really our responsibility to figure out this counterfeit situation. We built the category. We put Viagra out there."

Indeed, the decision to launch an official home delivery website rested on more than a desire to safeguard the Viagra name, as research into customer attitudes and behaviours on the web showed it could offer real benefits to prescription holders beyond guaranteeing the veracity of the product.

Data sourced from Warc