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positioningResponsible Marketing

Male performance drug advertising: Responsible or not?

By December 21, 2013January 21st, 2021No Comments

One of the benefits of not having kids is that I’ve never had to face an onslaught of questions from said kid during a televised football game.

I don’t mean questions about the game itself, but questions about the constant advertising from Pfizer and Lilly for their respective “male performance” products, Viagra and Cialis. This is not a conversation I would want to have with a 7 to 10 year-old. I can’t imagine what parents (or kids) really think about these commercials or how to talk about them. But let’s come back to that a little later.

Awkward conversations with kids aside, these ads are more interesting than they appear upon first glance.

Here are a couple of commercials for each product. Take a look with an eye toward double entendres and sexual suggestion. Also take another pass while trying to spot some of the key differences in the ads.



These ads are a treasure trove of subliminal messaging. How so, you ask?

Through quotations such as “Knowing what needs to be done;” “Taking action;”  “Don’t back down from a challenge”…and on and on. And how ‘bout the imagery such as a broken mast; being stuck in the mud; pulling the oars; the woman  enveloping her man’s neck with a looped towel or taking a bite from his sweet treat.

The only thing that doesn’t have a double meaning is the side effects disclaimer. I’m exaggerating – but not much. It’s not surprising that such ads would have suggestions of procreative activities, but the density of such suggestions – overtly and covertly – is pretty impressive.

However, the positioning of these products also has significant differences:

  • Cialis ads have male-female couples doing things together and Viagra ads have a macho guy doing stuff alone. (On a side note, I wonder when Cialis will market itself to male-male couples? Ever?)
  • Cialis ads have colors; Viagra has monochrome, darker tones.
  • Cialis has upbeat music that sounds like the backing track to a Huey Lewis & The News song; Viagra has a gritty blues riff because blues guys are known for…well, you know.
  • Cialis implies that your intimate partner is your partner in daily activities; Viagra doesn’t care about that stuff.
  • Cialis is a long-term low-key thing for partners; Viagra “fixes the problem”.
  • The Cialis ads mention “blood flow” and overtly states that the problem is not necessarily the attractiveness of your mate; Viagra just works, dude – who cares what he or she looks like?
  • Cialis suggests you’ve been together a long time and are probably married; Viagra only shows that you know where she, or he, lives – you might live there too.

It’s impressive how totally different these positions are.  Perhaps reflective of the different effects of the drugs? Or cost per dosage? I don’t know. But it is clear that Cialis and Viagra have very different assessments of their respective target market.  When assessed, it appears that Cialis is for couples and Viagra is for guys.

Circling back – neither of these products are targeted toward kids, aren’t that controversial on their own and could be considered responsible. They provide clear differentiation, and you could argue the only thing irresponsible about them is the program placement or timing of the ads.

So, what’s your take on male performance advertising? Comment below to share.

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