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Pfizer's new Viagra strategy

May 06, 2013|By Paul Whitefield
  • Pfizer has announced plans to sell Viagra direct to customers on its website.
Pfizer has announced plans to sell Viagra direct to customers on its website. (William Vazquez / Associated…)

What makes Viagra so interesting?

On Monday, my colleague Chad Terhune wrote about Pfizer’s plan to begin selling its little blue pills directly to patients on the company’s website. And within a couple of hours, the story was listed among  the “Most Viewed” on The Times’ website.

Do you think there would have been the same interest for a story about Pfizer selling its Lipitor cholesterol drug online?  Me neither.

Even in pharmaceuticals, it seems, sex sells. Literally. Last year alone, Pfizer reported about $2 billion in revenue from Viagra sales.

Which is good money. But Pfizer realizes it’s not getting the whole sex pie, so to speak. Although that’s not what the company is emphasizing. As Terhune writes:

In announcing its online sales, Pfizer cited a recent review by the National Assn. of Boards of Pharmacy that found as few as 3% of websites selling prescription drugs were legitimate pharmacies.

“We have seen counterfeit medicines manufactured in filthy and deplorable conditions," said Matthew Bassiur, Pfizer's vice president of global security. “Samples of counterfeit Viagra tested by our labs have contained pesticides, wallboard, commercial paint and printer ink."

Which will make me think twice the next time I go to recycle my old paint cans or printer cartridges, that’s for sure.

Terhune, though, also makes this point:

Viagra has been a popular product to counterfeit given its high price and the embarrassment some men experience buying the drug.  

Now, the embarrassment angle seems downright silly. Heck, given the volume of TV ads for Viagra and its rival, Cialas, purchasing such drugs has become an expected part of growing older for men. (Though, honestly, I don’t know how many couples have adjoining bathtubs as seen in the Cialas commercials. I suspect that hundreds of years from now, TV archaeologists are gonna have a field day with those ads.)  

No, Pfizer’s real target is undoubtedly the revenue that counterfeit Viagra diverts from the company’s coffers. Because there aren’t a lot of sure bets in this world, but sex is certainly one of them.   

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