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New impotency drug an early success

/ Source: The Associated Press

A new market entrant, Levitra, has captured half the new prescriptions written for impotency since its launch earlier this month, thanks in part to a marketing blitz with a more “racy” take on sexual performance.

Analysts said Levitra’s early success doesn’t necessarily portend a major threat to Viagra’s market dominance. But it signals a shift in some of the marketing of both drugs as capable of improving people’s lifestyle, and not just correcting a sobering medical condition.

“The ads have much more of a consumer approach,” said Winton Gibbons, an analyst for William Blair & Co. “The drugs are being treated like other consumer products in ads.”

Pfizer Inc. , which makes Viagra, and GlaxoSmithKline and Bayer Corp., which are co-marketing Levitra, insist the ads are designed to encourage men with erectile dysfunction to see a doctor, and not to promote recreational use. Experts say about 30 million men over 40 have erectile dysfunction.

But the ads can tell a different story. The commercial for Levitra features a sexy model trying to throw a football through a tire. Initially, he fails but then he succeeds, and is joined by a very attractive woman. The voice over says, “Sometimes you need a little help staying in the game. When it gets in the zone, it’s good.”

Gibbons labeled the ad “racy.” Hemant Shah, an independent analyst in Warren, N.J., called it “aggressive.”

Bayer spokeswoman Lara Crissey said the text was designed to appeal to men, and tie into Levitra’s sponsorship of the National Football League.

“We don’t feel we are making light of the condition. We are talking to men in a language they understand,” Crissey said. “The ad has nothing to do with recreational use.”

Levitra hit the market the first week of September. According to the research firm, ImpactRx, half the prescriptions for men who had never taken an impotency drug before were written for Levitra.

But analysts said much can happen between the doctor’s office and the drug store that prevents prescriptions from turning into sales. The man may decide not to fill the prescription or his health plan may pay only for Viagra. Also, he might try the drug and never use it again.

Shah said it isn’t unusual for men to want to try a new product when it comes on the market. That’s what happened when Viagra arrived five years ago.

Back then Viagra’s promotion featured former presidential candidate Bob Dole explaining erectile dysfunction as a serious medical condition.

“Pfizer’s ads are more subtle than the Levitra ad, but Pfizer’s ads aren’t as subtle as they used to be,” said Shah.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.