Advertising in the age of E.D. drugs

The Astoria Column - How has this not shown up in a commercial?

Over the past several years, big pharmaceutical companies have begun spending increasingly huge amounts of money on advertising for almost all of their products.  They’ve always given out pens and mid-size sedans to doctors, but now they’re also bombarding the airwaves telling Average Joes the great news about how well their products work.

Before this advertising blitzkrieg, relatively few people even knew what E.D. stood for.  Now, thanks to countless commercials, millions of Americans are exposed to those letters every day- especially if they’re watching golf or NASCAR.  Erectile Dysfunction medications are being hyped all over the tube like Color-Safe Fabric Softener and Ginsu Knives.

For obvious reasons, the ad agencies have to find ways to sell the E.D. products without actually showing how well they work.  The two biggest purveyors of woody medicine have fairly different approaches to the task.

The first manufacturer’s strategy shows men being men.  Sometimes they’re sailing, but usually they’re driving – classic muscle cars or pick-up trucks hauling horse trailers.  The sound track is often some fairly obscure blues track.  Fans of the Howlin’ Wolf such as myself will take note when hearing his familiar guitar licks on the TV.  At first we’re tickled because someone somewhere took the time to find this cool song and put it on TV.  Then a moment later, we’re disheartened to realize it’s being used in a commercial for boner pills.  The ads focus on portraying these handsome, accomplished men as masters of their own destiny, having figured out how to get where they want to be in life.  The unspoken message is this: If you can figure out how to get that horse trailer unstuck, you can certainly  figure out how to solve the linguine-in-the-pants problem.

The ad agency for the other main pharmaceutical company goes with a different approach.  They show men and women engaged in mundane, mutually tedious activities.  Then they brush elbows, and the garden shed they’re working on re-organizing magically morphs into a Tahitian love-hut complete with tropical breezes and an ocean view.  They discard their work gloves and start slow dancing onto the lanai.  As always, the commercial ends with the two of them sitting alongside one another in matching bathtubs watching the Polynesian sun set.  One could argue that if those pills worked so well, the two of them would have jumped into the same tub.  This particular Madison Avenue approach puts the emphasis on the romance and emotional connection of sex, rather than the dirty, sweaty aspects of it – otherwise the “erections lasting longer than 4 hours” part would be part of the sales pitch, not part of the disclaimer.*

Speaking of disclaimers, there’s also the one which warns users to “consult with your doctor to make sure you’re healthy enough to have sex in the first place”.  Like any disclaimer, it’s there for legal reasons. In lay terms it’s because unlike the rugged horse trailer drivers in the commercial, the actual users of the pills may not be quite so fit.  In other words, many of the actual users of these pills may bear more of a resemblance to the Michelin Man than to the Marlboro Man.

When it’s all said and done, ED drugs and the rest of the pharmaceutical goodies in the world are hawked no differently than any other products.  The subliminal psychology is used and abused to give people all sorts of messages which are patently absurd.  You may suffer from that medical problem, but you’re no more that guy in the vintage Camaro than your wife is the smoking hottie in the air freshener commercial.

Now go enjoy yourself.  If things don’t change in another 3 hours and 52 minutes, you’re going to have to seek medical attention.

*Now that I’ve written this, the company has stopped using the powder-room-with-the-backed-up-toilet-morphing-into-a-mountain-cabin-with-canopy-bed approach and just shows men and women getting close.  They share crossword puzzles and snuggle on couches.  Anyone will tell you that there’s no better way to kill desire than sharing a crossword puzzle – I mean, who could be attracted to someone who couldn’t come up with the five letter word for “calcified instrument of lovemaking(?)”, beginning with b.  The twin tub part has now been reduced to a stylized logo at the very end of the ad.  I’m trying to write here!  Couldn’t you guys leave well enough alone and not change your commercials long enough for my references to be topical!?

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5 thoughts on “Advertising in the age of E.D. drugs

  1. You can thank former President Bill Clinton and his admirer Monica Lewinsky for the bedroom functions and malfunctions becoming acceptable breakfast table dialogue.
    The minute she handed over that stained dress to save her fat, crass, star struck self — dialogue travelled south with a bunch of marketing analysts running — sorry tracking — behind it. Quite sure there was not any mention of ED in those confessions, but once you talk about it, why not talk about all of it?

    1. in any case, i’m glad that my kids are old enough that i don’t have to explain what ED is to them…advertising is advertising i guess…make sure to tune in tomorrow, I have a follow up piece ready to post

  2. What I can’t figure out is the one commercial with the middle aged guy and gal in the separate clawfoot bathtubs on a hill. I mean, what the hell does that have to do with getting E.D.? Maybe it’s a guy thing.

    1. …although your confusion about the tubs is likely part of the reason they started reducing those shots in the ads…some focus group probably figured it was dumb too…as i wrote, i don’t know why they arent in the same tub if those pills are so wonderful.

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