The New York Times recently embarrassed Pfizer, outing Jarvik as somewhat of a Woody Allen when it comes to sports. The man simply does now row. He has no inclination to row. Pfizer used a body double to depict Jarvik, who says he takes Lipitor, as the epitome of good heart health. Pfizer was wrong to do that, and is now paying a steep price for its action in the form of Congressional outrage.
“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. We regret this. Going forward, we commit to ensuring there is a greater clarity in our advertising regarding the presentation of spokespeople.”
Apparently, Pfizer is not going to use a body double to depict Jarvik’s replacement either playing tight end for the New York Giants or competing in the Tour de France.
This blogger is all for the First Amendment rights of Rx companies to advertise and promote their products, but that right comes with responsibility. Pfizer and other drug companies are not selling potato chips or hawking the latest “next thing.” They are dealing with people’s lives.
The $5B direct-to-consumer advertising business is out of control, pitching cures for marginal diseases and presenting people like Jarvik as medical miracles thanks to some very special and magical pills. In the beginning, D-T-C ads offered straight-up information to patients. Once bland, D-T-C ads now possess all the trappings of consumer product ads. It's only a matter of time before a character similar to Burger King's King shows up in an Rx campaign. The time is right for a return to basics. D-T-C ads need to get back to their "just the facts" beginning.
Instead of promising a commitment to “greater clarity,” Pfizer should have simply apologized for presenting Jarvik as something that he is not. “We simply botched it. Please forgive us.” Those sentences would have set the right tone.
This blogger hopes Kaplan Thaler Group, the genius advertising agency that created the Jarvik spot, isn’t scape-goated by the drug house. Pfizer officials approved the Jarvik deception. If any heads roll, they should be rolled out of Pfizer’s headquarters.
The House Energy and Commerce Committee is investigating the Jarvik ad campaign. Not only is the respected Jarvik an apparent user of Lipitor, he received nearly $1.4M as a paid pitchman for the cholesterol-reducing drug that is nearly a $13B franchise for Pfizer.
With that money, Jarvik could buy a power boat or two.