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Move Over Robert Jarvik - Pfizer Ditches The Celebrity Pitch

Posted by Jane Akre
Wednesday, September 03, 2008 11:35 AM EST
Category: Major Medical, Protecting Your Family, In The Workplace
Tags: Lipitor, Pfizer, Statins, Cholesterol Conflict-of-Interest, Atorvastatin, Baycol, Ambien, Chantix, Pharmaceutical Industry, False and Misleading Advertising

Pfizer is reigniting is ad campaign for Lipitor, without Dr. Jarvik, part of a trend in advertising.



 IMAGE SOURCE:  Pfizer Lipitor Web site


Expect to see Pfizer’s Lipitor ad campaign this fall sans Dr. Robert Jarvik.

Pfizer pulled the ads six months ago after a Congressional investigation began into false and misleading advertising by the drug industry.

The focus was Robert Jarvik, who earned at least $1.35 million as a spokesman for the bestselling cholesterol-lowering drug.

After word leaked out that Jarvik never actually practiced medicine, cannot prescribe medications, does not have a medical license and in fact was not even the person seen rowing the boat in the Lipitor ads, Pfizer halted the ad campaign.   

For his part Jarvik is a medical researcher, who is credited with inventing the artificial heart valve, but is not a cardiologist.

Rep. Bart Stupak, D-MI, chairman of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce’s Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations started investigating “the deceptive tactics of drug companies in their direct-to-consumer advertising. Drug companies should know that they will be held accountable for the representations made in their ads.”

Even Pfizer apologized. Ian Read, president of worldwide pharmaceutical operations for Pfizer. "We regret this. Going forward, we commit to ensuring there is greater clarity in our advertising regarding the presentation of spokespeople."

Now as the drug industry as a whole rethinks drug advertising, Pfizer will be peddling Lipitor with an actual patient in direct-to-customer ads.

The patient, John Erlendson, a talent agent from the San Francisco Bay area, began Lipitor after he survived a heart attack last year.  The ads began running this week and are part of an open-ended campaign that includes print ads.   

The drug goes off patent in 2011. It generates more than $12 billion a year for Pfizer, the world’s biggest drugmaker.

Researchers also presented data Tuesday from a five-year Pfizer funded study on Lipitor showed that a higher dose of 80 milligrams of Lipitor daily, not only reduced the risk of a first heart attack, when compared to the 10-milligram starting dose.

Expect to see drug companies find clever ways around the advertising rule that mandates a list of potential side effects, specifically more public service announcement-type adverting that does not mention the drug but instead talks about a given condition.

It’s already happening for Chantix, a smoking cessation drug.  

The Pfizer campaign “My Time To Quit” sends patients to a website. “Find out more about a prescription treatment option” the ads say on television with a little Pfizer bug in the right-hand corner.  The side effects are there but not as prominent as they must be on television ads hawking a specific drug.

The shift in Chantix advertising happened right as the drug was receiving increased scrutiny about its link to suicide, “Chantix dreams”, and the FAA ordered pilots to quit using the drug as did the trucking industry concerning drivers.

Need help sleeping? A TV commercial doesn’t mention Ambien to help you sleep or side effects but the Sanofi-Aventis TV spot leads viewers to the www.silenceyourrooster.com Web site about sleep deprivation.  Click through the site and you end up with a promotion for the sleep aid, Ambien.  

Because the ad is about a condition, not a drug, it doesn’t have to spend time listing side effects, which for Ambien are quite extensive.  The companies say they are trying to increase advertising efficiency. A ten second ad costs a lot less than a 30 or 60 second commercial.

In one week, Silence Your Rooster.com drove 400,000 visitors to the Web site, according to the Wall Street Journal. #

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