Erectile Dysfunction Ad Raises Stakes

The Associated Press

NEW YORK — It’s a first in an advertising category that has been characterized by sexual innuendo, insinuation and allusion: a new television commercial for erectile dysfunction drug Cialis debuting during the Super Bowl actually states what condition the medication treats.

Frankness was necessary to highlight what Cialis’ makers call a major advantage over its two competitors: It lasts for up to 36 hours. Rival products expire after roughly four hours.

Experts said the ad, which features smooth jazz and nuzzling middle-aged couples, does more than mark a change in the tenor of erectile dysfunction advertising. It heralds the beginning of multimillion dollar advertising war for dominance in the nearly $2 billion drug category.

“This is going to be some battle,” predicted Bert Hazlett, an analyst with SunTrust Robinson Humphrey.

A new campaign for Levitra, marketed by GlaxoSmithKline and Bayer AG, also will debut during the Super Bowl, featuring its spokesman, former Chicago Bears coach Mike Ditka. Pfizer Inc. refused to discuss marketing plans for its drug, market leader Viagra.

There are an estimated 30 million American men over 40 suffering from erectile dysfunction, with about a third who have sought treatment. Doctors and analysts agree all the advertising is likely to compel more men to visit the doctor, though no one expects all of them to seek treatment.

Dubbed “Le Weekend” in France, Cialis’ marketing highlights that lasting up to 36 hours allows couples to bring the spontaneity back into their love life, said Khoso Baluch, business unit leader for the medication’s team at Eli Lilly & Co, which markets the drug along with Icos Corp.

Baluch said drugs which last only four hours exert performance pressure on men, who may already suffer some anxiety because of the condition.

The ad begins with a shot of a couple lying in side-by-side bath tubs overlooking a beautiful vista with a voice over that says, “If a relaxing moment turns into the right moment, will you be ready?”

Teaser ads that named the product but didn’t mention erectile function began airing last week. On Friday, ads are slated to appear in magazines and newspapers. Baluch declined to say how much would be spent on the campaign, but said it would be competitive.

“We will take Viagra from its leadership position,” Baluch said.

That will be an extraordinary challenge, experts contend, because Viagra has a five-year history of safe and effective use.

Still, Cialis is creating a unique market position. Cialis was approved two months ago, and its marketers have been aggressively courting doctors, with some apparent success.

According to drug research firm Impact Rx, Cialis grabbed 40 percent of the new prescriptions written by urologists for those never previously treated for erectile dysfunction. Levitra grabbed 29 percent of those prescriptions while Viagra captured 28 percent.

Cialis didn’t fare as well among primary care doctors, grabbing 28 percent of the prescriptions compared to Viagra’s 38 percent and Levitra’s 34 percent. The disparity may be caused by specialists’ willingness to prescribe new medications earlier than general practitioners, experts said.

But some doctors aren’t sure a 36-hour effectiveness period is an asset.

“Most 50-year old men can tell you the day and time that they are going to have sex,” said Dr. Andrew McCullough, director of male sexual health and fertility at New York University Medical Center. “We all like to think we are going to have sex all the time but the reality is that it doesn’t happen.”

Cialis’ competitors, and doctors, point out that the drugs’ side effects as well as benefits linger for a full day and a half.

“There is a disadvantage to a drug sticking around in your system when you don’t need it,” said Dr. Nachum Katlowitz, direct of male infertility and sexual dysfunction at Maimonides Medical Center in Brooklyn, N.Y.

All three impotency drugs interact with nitrates, medications for chest pains. A man who took Cialis would be prevented from taking a nitrate for 36 hours while men using a rival drug would have to wait only four hours.

Katlowitz said he might prescribe Cialis for a healthy 42-year married man with children because his age suggests he might have sex more than once in a 36-hour period. But he wouldn’t prescribe Cialis for a 72-year old man with a history of chest pains.

Viagra revenues rose 8 percent to $1.9 billion last year.

Hazlett estimates that Viagra revenues won’t grow much between now and 2010 while Cialis sales will hit $1.6 billion by then. Already on the market in Europe and other markets, Cialis posted $109.1 million in revenues from January-September 2003.

Hazlett believes Levitra will be the loser in the three-way battle with yearly sales of $875 million by 2010 because it offers similar benefits to Viagra without the market leader’s history.

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