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Lipitor Ads Ready, Minus the Celebrity Doctor

Sep 3, 2008 | Parker Waichman LLP

Pfizer has launched a new TV ad campaign for Lipitor - one that does not feature a celebrity endorsement.  Pfizer had come under a great deal of criticism for TV spots that featured artificial heart pioneer  Robert Jarvik. Critics said that in the ads it appeared that Dr. Jarvik - who is not a medical doctor - was giving medical device.

In February, the Jarvik-lipitor ad campaign came under scrutiny from a Congressional committee examining consumer drug advertising and questions if the ads misrepresented Jarvik and his credentials.  While Jarvik does have a medical degree he is neither a cardiologist, nor is he licensed to practice medicine.  John D. Dingell, the Michigan Democrat who chairs the House Energy and Commerce Committee, raised questions about Jarvik’s credentials to recommend Lipitor. 

Critics also had other problems with the Jarvik ads  In one spot, for example,  Jarvik was presented as an accomplished rower.  That ad used a body double for Jarvik, who does not row. 

 “The way in which we presented Dr. Jarvik in these ads has, unfortunately, led to misimpressions and distractions from our primary goal of encouraging patient and physician dialogue on the leading cause of death in the world—cardiovascular disease,” Pfizer’s president of worldwide pharmaceutical operations, Ian Read, said at the time. "We regret this.  Going forward, we commit to ensuring there is greater clarity in our advertising regarding the presentation of spokespeople."

Pfizer stopped running the ads in February, and said it was working with its ad agency, the Kaplan Thaler Group, on a new campaign.

That new Lipitor campaign is now ready to debut.  It features a testimonial from John Erlendson, a 58-year-old heart attack survivor. The phrase "a Lipitor heart to heart" appears on screen at both the beginning and end of the spot,  and will reoccur in other ads.

"Talk about a wake-up call. I had a heart attack at 57," Erlendson says at the beginning of the commercial. "My doctor told me I should have been doing more for my high cholesterol. What was I thinking? But now I trust my heart to Lipitor."

Pfizer is hoping that the new campaign will preserve Lipitor's market share. According to The Wall Street Journal, the drug's sales are under pressure from health plans promoting the use of cheaper, generic cholesterol drugs. Lipitor itself will lose protection against generic copies in the U.S. in 2011. 

The Journal reports that the drug had sales of $12.7 billion in 2007, a 2% decline from the prior year. Sales through the first half of 2008 were up 1%, with a strong overseas showing bolstered by the weak dollar.

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