Monday, March 03, 2008

Honesty in Advertising

Under Congressional pressure, Pfizer, the world's largest research-based biomedical and pharmaceutical company, will be pulling its TV ad for Lipitor, its cholesterol-lowering drug. The ad prominently featured Dr. Robert Jarvik saying he's a user of the product and apparently rowing a boat. It turned out the rowing was done by a stunt double; and Dr. Jarvik didn't start taking Lipitor until after he was hired by Pfizer.

The House energy and commerce committee also has suggested that the ad presents Dr. Jarvik as a medical expert, when most of his career has involved the invention of the artificial heart. Ian Read, Pfizer's president-worldwide pharmaceutical operations, said in a statement that "the way in which we presented Dr. Jarvik in these ads has, unfortunately, led to misimpressions and distractions from our primary goal of encouraging patient and physician dialogue on the leading cause of death in the world – cardiovascular disease. We regret this. Going forward, we commit to ensuring there is greater clarity in our advertising regarding the presentation of spokespeople in the statement."

This is a very distressing situation, and obviously a mistake was made. Fortunately, the worldwide president jumped in quickly and appropriately apologized for the error, thereby attempting to recover some of the integrity lost in this incident, and I commend him for that.

Many presidents have been absent at such times of need, compounding their original problems. American consumers traditionally admire the quick admission of a mistake, and if the company has a long history of building trust, as Pfizer certainly does, consumer confidence is usually restored more rapidly.

Nevertheless, when one thinks of all the work that is put into the development of an ad, and the misrepresentations that evolved during subsequent policy discussions, one must question — in this Age of Transparency — Pfizer’s system of checks and balances …especially at a time when outside customer needs and the specter of a declining pharma industry reputation, factor into internal review.

For a company that has made such a significant contribution to medicine in the U.S. — and worldwide! — we know that President Read's statement and his rapid response are emblematic of the standards that we can anticipate and which exist in its medical and scientific areas.


Technorati Tags: Pfizer, Lipitor, Dr. Robert Jarvik, The House energy and commerce comittee, artificial heart, advertising, President Read, Age of Transparency, biomedical and pharmaceutical company, medicine, business, communications, public relations

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