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Healthy Skepticism Library item: 14739

Warning: This library includes all items relevant to health product marketing that we are aware of regardless of quality. Often we do not agree with all or part of the contents.


Publication type: news

Eli Lilly – The Marketing Overdose Award for rampant promotion
Consumers International 2008 Dec 3

Full text:

Eli Lilly takes this year’s Marketing Overdose Award for the promotion of its erectile dysfunction (ED) drug, Cialis. Global sales of the drug topped US$1.1 billion in 2007, making it one of Lilly’s biggest sellers. Those figures aren’t surprising considering Lilly spent US$152 million on public promotion of the drug in the USA alone.

ED is big business, yet many independent studies question the efficacy of drug treatments. Research by CI’s US member organisation, Consumers Union, earlier this year found that among men using an ED drug, less than half considered it effective in managing the condition. And one-third reported experiencing side effects.

Yet Lilly is intent on vigorously promoting Cialis and time after time the company has been pulled up on its marketing tactics. We found 2008 to have been a particularly busy year.

In October 2008, the UK pharmaceutical watchdog reprimanded Lilly for not providing adequate information about the side effects of Cialis in its online and in-surgery promotions. Side effects include headache, heartburn, muscular aches and pains, runny nose and flushing. Much less common are potential adverse reactions, such as visual and hearing problems.

Lilly’s reprimand for bringing discredit to the industry came after CI and others raised objections with the UK’s Prescription Medicines Code of Practice Authority about Lilly’s ED treatments website. The online information site was linked to the first ever television ‘infomercial’ by a drug company in the UK, and the need for its censure is a worrying indication of where drug promotion in the Britain may be heading. This was the second time the UK authorities had taken action against Lilly for promoting Cialis. In 2003 they were censored for promoting the drug to doctor’s before it was even licensed.

In Australia in July 2008, Lilly was fined by the industry watchdog following a complaint filed by CI member organisation, Choice. The violation concerned a widely referenced press release issued by the company. The release cited a Lilly-commissioned survey of 1,000 Australian men over 45 and claimed that 50% had problems having sex on impulse. Lilly used the results to promote Cialis through the press, in contravention of Australian guidelines on drug promotion.

Lilly’s marketing blitz on middle-aged men goes on and on. Other targeted promotions for Cialis have recently included sponsorship of the golf’s PGA tour and the Americas Cup sailing event. In 2007, Eli Lilly’s China President, Jorg Ostertag even suggested Cialis can help reduce the country’s divorce rates.

Justin Macmullan, Consumers International Head of Campaigns:

“Erectile dysfunction is a serious condition that affects millions of people worldwide. But consumer-focused promotions for drugs like Cialis exaggerate the number of potential sufferers and encourage men and their partners to seek prescription drugs for conditions that could be alleviated by changes in lifestyle. This is irresponsible drug marketing at its worst.”


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As an advertising man, I can assure you that advertising which does not work does not continue to run. If experience did not show beyond doubt that the great majority of doctors are splendidly responsive to current [prescription drug] advertising, new techniques would be devised in short order. And if, indeed, candor, accuracy, scientific completeness, and a permanent ban on cartoons came to be essential for the successful promotion of [prescription] drugs, advertising would have no choice but to comply.
- Pierre R. Garai (advertising executive) 1963