We’ve all seen the ads many times over: a guy with a certain glint in his eye as he looks at his foxy lady, the couple lounging in their beachfront bathtubs, the man preparing to loft a football through a tire swing — all waiting, and pharmaceutically ready, for the right moment to arise.
Aubin Parrish cringes and then grabs for the remote every time an ad of that ilk pops onto the screen as she watches primetime TV with her kids. “The commercials give the impression that the only thing adults do is think about their sexual function,” says the mother of two kids, ages 11 and 4, from Cool, Calif. “And on some shows it seems like every other commercial break has an ED ad.”
Annoyed parents like Parrish got some support Monday from the American Academy of Pediatricians. In a statement published in Monday's issue of Pediatrics, the group suggested that ED drug ads not be shown till until 10 at night and that cigarettes and alcohol appear less frequently in movies and TV programs.
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“The underlying message in these [ED] ads is confusing to children and teenagers,” says Dr. Vic Strasburger, a professor of pediatrics at the University of New Mexico School of Medicine. “It seems like everybody is having sex and there’s no risk to it and that you should enhance it and be ready for it whenever possible. But then what do you do? There’s no talk about birth control.”Poll: Should ED ads run while kids are watching TV?
One big reason to scale the ads back to before 10 p.m. is that kids are particularly vulnerable to advertising, says Douglas Gentile, an associate professor of psychology and director of the Media Research Lab at Iowa State University.
There are plenty of studies showing that kids under 8 don’t really see a difference between the TV program and the ads.
Enter the ED ads with their skewed view of adult sexuality. These ads suggest that if you aren’t having sex there is something wrong with you since you can call a doctor to write a prescription to fix it, Gentile says.
There’s no doubt that kids are hearing and absorbing the ED message whether they understand it yet or not, says Dr. Michael Rich, a professor of pediatrics at the Harvard Medical School and director of The Center on Media and Children’s Health at the Children’s Hospital Boston.
Rich writes a column on children and the media and fields questions from perplexed parents. He remembers one from a woman who asked about the impact of all the ED ads run during telecasts of NFL games.
“She asked how to deal with a 9-year-old loudly singing the Viagra jingle on the playground as if it was the fight song for Yale,” Rich remembers. “It’s the same thing with all the beer ads during football games. This is telling the kids that the norm is beer with football.”
"We recognize that ED is a sensitive medical condition and are thoughtful both about the content of our advertising and ensuring that our commercials are broadcast during programming that meets the requirement of having at least 90 percent adult viewership," says Teresa Shewman, a spokesperson for the drugmaker.
Pfizer spokesperson Victoria Davis says the drugmaker shares the Viagra advertising schedule each week for posting on the Parents Television Council's Web site so parents who are really concerned can make sure to avoid the TV spots.
Ultimately, some parents may be annoyed for reasons beyond the impact on their kids, Gentile says.
“National sex surveys show that whether we’re married or single, we’re not having sex all the time,” he explains. “But these ads make us think we should be. The whole point of most ads is to make us feel inadequate. Without that as a motivation why would we buy something?”
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