Blame the Brief: A limp ad from Viagra.

Pfizer’s Agency Pulls A Boner In Its Ad For ED Medication.

Even professionals make mistakes. This one, um, stands head and shoulders above its competition.

Is it just me, or do you, too, see the classic error?

Break it down: Viagra is the brand name for a prescription medication designed to treat erectile dysfunction. Its generic name is sildenafil. Viagra is but one of a number of brand name medications to treat ED.

So what does this medication do? It relaxes the tiny blood vessels in and around your junk and allows the blood to flow. Et voila, an erection. In other words, the key feature of this product is that it can produce a woody. My research tells me that unless you have a serious case of diabetes, this drug works on all guys. Every adult male who takes it as prescribed will get a hard on. It works.

Which is why this ad sucks. It’s an advertisement for the category, not Viagra. It does nothing to distinguish the brand from any other brand.

The mistake Pfizer’s agency made was to confuse the product’s feature for its benefit.

In fact, this billboard ignores the product benefit completely, in favor of a cheap, sophomoric joke.

How did this happen? I blame the creative brief, and by implication, the brief writer.

As the first step in the creative process, the brief sets up the project with parameters and the means to measure them.

Somewhere on the Viagra brief the creative team likely found words to this effect:

Viagra is safe and efficacious (meaning it works).

But it’s the brief writer’s job to identify the benefit derived from the feature.

Ergo, the main, and almost singular, feature of Viagra is that it does, in fact, do what it promises: It produces erections in men with ED.

And that means the benefit is….?

It makes a man feel like a man again.

It gives him back his life.

It revitalizes his confidence.

The ad below, produced by a UK agency for Viagra, is much closer to addressing the true benefit of the product. It makes an emotional connection with guys. It talks directly to a human need: the freedom to be yourself without fear. It appeals to the…shall we be honest? The horny devil in all guys.F_200408_august19ed_125383a

I loved this approach when I first saw these ads. I was happily surprised that Pfizer would sign off on this tack. Whoever thought of using the “V” as devil horns deserves a Clio in the category of visual solution (if there is such a category).

I was also not surprised when I noticed it went away, rather quickly too.

Sadly, too many of the early ads for Viagra fell victim to the “show the feature” creative solution. If the creative brief had been clear about the true benefit of the product, the creative solutions would have been more benefit oriented. That would have been the measuring stick…er…rod…er…you know what I mean.

Instead, the agency and the client chose the joke.

No matter how you look at it, the creative solution you see in the billboard ad at the top ignores the benefit.

Which is why, as a communication designed to connect the brand to its user with an emotional bond, it fails.

“Get back to mischief” addresses a human emotion. That makes it a convincing piece of communication.


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