Sunday, November 07, 2010

New Lipitor Ads Dis Exercise & Healthy Diet. Are You Kidding Me?

In its most recent TV and print ads for Lipitor, Pfizer highlights a middle-aged man working out in a gym. In bold text and voice overs, the ad asks "Are You Kidding Yourself?" The print ad -- an example from this week's Time Magazine is shown here (click for an enlarged view) -- goes on to say "A lot of people think exercise and healthy diet are enough to lower cholesterol. For 2 out 3, it may not be."

Damn! You mean that the odds of me lowering my cholesterol via exercise and diet are only 1 in 3?

This is the first time I have ever seen a DTC (direct to consumer) ad that so blatantly "disses" exercise and diet. At least, that's what it sounds like to me.

Older Lipitor ads featured active people -- mostly men -- such as "doctors" rowing and guys skiing or biking, etc. These ads only hinted that lifetstyle changes may not be enough. Recent ads, however, appear to be CRITICAL of those among us who are trying to change our lifestyles.

In fact, IMHO, the new Lipitor ads come very close to violating PhRMA's "Guiding Principles for Direct to Consumer Advertisements About Prescription Medicines"; especially principle #12, which states "DTC television and print advertising should include information about the availability of other options such as diet and lifestyle changes where appropriate for the advertised condition."

Yes, the new Lipitor ads do say "When healthy diet and exercise are not enough.." and "Along with diet, Lipitor....[blah, blah]. Pfizer, therefore, obeys the letter of the guidelines, but maybe not the spirit. Should I report this ad to PhRMA's "Office of Accountability?" I didn't have much luck the last time I did that (see "Adventures of PhRMA Intern!", a Pharma Marketing Blog "Classic").

The other criticism I have is in regard to the "2 out 3" claim. What's the basis for that statement of fact? I can find no reference to any data in support of that claim in the ad. The site attempts to "prove" the claim with even more unsubstantiated claims: "Only about 25% of cholesterol comes from the foods you eat. The other 75% is made by the body. Factors such as age and family history affect how much cholesterol your body makes. That’s why, for 2 out of 3 people with high cholesterol, diet and exercise alone aren’t enough and a cholesterol-lowering medicine, like LIPITOR, may be necessary."

Maybe factors such as amount of exercise ALSO affect how much cholesterol your body makes or affect how cholesterol is disposed of in your body. Maybe exercise helps stop the build up of plaque in your arteries due to high cholesterol. Etc.

Perhaps Pfizer is trying to counteract "Non-prescription Cholesterol Lowering" advice from physicians on the Internet (see here, for example) or is getting desperate as Lipitor sales continue to tank around the world (see "Pfizer Sales Lag, Hurt by Generic Lipitor, Effexor").

Whatever. I think it's the wrong message when a DTC ad leads off with "dissing" healthy lifestyle options with the phrase "Are You Kidding Yourself?" Perhaps it was meant to be just a way to capture my attention (which it did), but it SOUNDS to me like its challenging my decision to exercise and eat healthy, which directly conflicts with the advice of my doctor. Talk about interfering with the patient-doctor relationship!


  1. Anonymous11:18 AM

    I don't think this advertisement is disrespecting a healthy lifestyle. It is simply saying that an individual may need more. I think this is true and probably an important message. Some individuals who may believe their medical problems can be entirely eliminated by lifestyle changes. That is a dangerous belief.

  2. Looking at this from someone who has to abide by ABPI regulations in the UK (and obviously ignoring the fact that we aren't allowed to do DTC over here), I agree that the supporting evidence for these claims is lacking.

    That said, I do not agree with you that this ad is out of order. It quite clearly talks about the potential need for Lipitor ON TOP OF diet and lifestyle modification, i.e. if those first-line therapies turn out not to be sufficient.

    Finally, as to whether 'stop kidding yourself' is an appropriate strapline, well that may well just end up annoying potential prescribers. Report this ad to the authorities? Hope you weren't serious...

  3. You might see how annoying this ad is to potential prescribers soon!

  4. Anonymous9:32 AM

    You peaked my curiosity about Emily Johnson. According to LinkedIn, she graduated from college in 2001, grad school in 2003, and then immediately became Director of PhRMA (no joke):

    After 5 years at PhRMA, she became a Senior Associate at a PR firm. Quite a step down from Director of PhRMA.

  5. Anonymous2:47 PM

    This ad is just to sell a product...It is up to each consumer to educate themselves on anything they buy or buy into and use...including prescribed drugs. I am very annoyed by these ads and use my remote to "blab off"...I have had to change doctors 4 times because they were "lock-step" with the drug companies. When I asked about side effects, they were at best vague. At one time, I was put on Zocor for 3 days despite normal levels and my cholesterol tanked! I was quickly removed from the drug...although subsequent doctors tried to get me to take it again as a preventative measure. I don't have enough money to use something that may prevent something I don't have but could very well cause something I don't want!

  6. Anonymous3:29 PM

    I agree with you completely, I have before me the recent ad with the woman looking disaprovingly at the reader. As a medical librarian my first thought was "where is the citation to the study saying 2 out 3 can't do it. To me the ad is basically saying "hey fatty, don't even try to do it yourself, cause you can't, now get back on the couch and take these pills" - disgraceful

  7. Since this new ad campaign started, I haven't been to the Gym! Coincidence?

  8. The 2-out-of-3 claim is very carefully worded: "For 2 out of 3, it [exercise and diet] MAY not be [enough]." Notice it doesn't say, "For 2 out of 3, it ISN'T enough"; that could be construed as false advertising. But MAY not be enough? That could mean for 1 out of 3, it definitely IS enough, and for the remaining 2 out of 3, it may still be enough, but for a small undefined percentage, it won't be enough. It's like those old diet program commercials that said, "The average American can gain 4 to 7 pound during the holidays." In truth, the average American only gains 1 to 2 pounds over the holidays, but they CAN gain 4 to 7. It's a type of fuzzy wording that should always alert you when you see or hear it.


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