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Pharmaceuticals in Fantasyland: Just Leave It to Your Imagination


The New York Times reports that Pfizer – one of the biggest and most aggressive of the Big Drug Companies – has ventured off into la-la-land in its latest television commercials for Viagra. They are being aired only in Canada so far, but Americans are going to love them. And you don’t even need to speak English to understand them.

That’s because the commercials are not in English or any other known native tongue. They are in an imaginary, specially-created gobbledygook of Pfizer’s own creation, taglined “The International Language of Viagra.”

In one TV spot, a middle-aged man asks his bowling companion, “Viagra spanglecheff?” and his friend responds, “Spanglecheff?” With a sly grin – one of those wink-winks that we have come to associate with Viagra ads – our bowler says, “Minky Viagra noni noni boo-boo plats!” Big smiles all around.

Dr. Sidney Wolfe, director of Public Citizen’s Health Research Group, is not amused.

“In an ideal world,” says Wolfe, “companies would have to sell drugs based on accurate and balanced information. That doesn’t seem to work well enough, so instead of that they’re substituting gibberish.”

If this keeps up, courtroom scenes will be even more surreal in class action lawsuits such as those filed against Merck’s Vioxx (pulled from the market in 2004 when evidence mounted that Vioxx doubles the risk of heart attack or stroke). Defense attorneys will have the perfect case against false claims: When Big Drugmakers can thumb their noses at the public by just saying “nanny-nanny-poo-poo,” then it’s not their fault when consumers discover that ignorance is not bliss.

Pfizer, you can’t really be serious. But if you are, why not at least use Latin? After all, it’s a dead language that is rarely taught these days – the only people who understand it are so old they are already suffering from dementia. So here’s a great suggestion for the tagline on the TV spots: “caveat emptor.”

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