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COMMENTARY:

Viva Big Pharma

by James Ridgeway
First published in his blog Unsilent Generation on 10 September 2009

The current health care reform clearly will offer no significant challenge to Big Pharma, which year after year rates among the top two or three most profitable industries in the world.

Regardless of what happens from here on out, the current health care reform clearly will offer no significant challenge to Big Pharma, which year after year rates among the top two or three most profitable industries in the world. This leaves the drug manufacturers free to carry out their vital, life-saving work. One example of that work appears today on John Mack’s highly informative Pharma Marketing Blog:

Viagra missile

A Long Island man infringed on Pfizer’s trademark by towing a 20-foot replica missile with ‘Viva Viagra’ painted on its side through midtown Manhattan, eventually parking it in front of the drugmaker’s 42nd Street headquarters, a federal judge ruled.

This story dates back to last year, when a couple of guys from the Island came up with the rather kooky idea of using decommissioned military ordinance as an advertising medium. According to their web site, their company, Jet Angel, “takes the target marketing capabilities of mobile billboards and adds an experience for consumers to achieve the ultimate viewer captivation”—in other words, everyone is guaranteed to look at a giant missile being towed through the streets.

Apparently seeking to prove this claim, they emblazoned a missile with the slogan from Pfizer’s grotesque “Viva Viagra” ads, drove it around Manhattan, and hung out for a while in front of the drugmaker’s corporate headquarters. They followed up with an email to Pfizer:

Jet Angel hopes that you enjoyed yesterday’s visit to NYC including all your free PR. It is the intention to make a second trip next week, with the VIAGRA Missile, and ‘riding’ on top will be two models handing out free condoms!

LOOK AT ALL THE PEOPLE STARRING, THE JOY, THE IMPRESSIONS!!!!

Pfizer quickly sued the missile-launchers. (When the court issued a preliminary injunction, the feisty guys at Jet Angel returned to Pfizer HQ with the missile repainted to say “CENSORED BY A FEDERAL COURT.”) A spokesperson told the Wall Street Journal’s Law Blog that the company felt it was “important to protect the integrity of our medicines.” Apparently, Pfizer believed the ”integrity” of the pioneering boner drug, which had weathered the company’s own creepy advertising campaigns (not to mention ED spokesmodel Bob Dole) would be harmed by what John Mack called the “erectile projectile.” The court agreed, and has now ruled in Pfizer’s favor, saying “Defendants’ midday sojourn with a missile to Pfizer’s world headquarters traded on the fame and reputation of Viagra.”

Big Pharma has long claimed that it has to charge high prices for its products so that it can continue its research and development work, discovering new drugs that will save lives and serve humanity. In fact, as Marcia Angell and others have thoroughly documented, a larger percentage of the industry’s revenues goes to profits than to R&D–and an even larger portion goes to “marketing and administration,” which includes not only myriad campaigns to promote costly drugs, but also legal fees to launch ridiculous lawsuits like this one.

In other words, every time you buy a Pfizer drug, the company puts a fraction of the proceeds toward defending its reputation against things like penis-shaped missiles on wheels. And there’s nothing in the current health care reform that will throw that mission off course.


Born in 1936, James Ridgeway has been reporting on politics for more than 45 years. He is currently Senior Washington Correspondent for Mother Jones, and recently wrote a blog on the 2008 presidential election for the Guardian online. He previously served as Washington Correspondent for the Village Voice; wrote for Ramparts and The New Republic; and founded and edited two independent newsletters, Hard Times and The Elements.

Ridgeway is the author of 16 books, including The Five Unanswered Questions About 9/11, It’s All for Sale: The Control of Global Resources, and Blood in the Face: The Ku Klux Klan, Aryan Nations, Nazi Skinheads, and the Rise of a New White Culture. He co-directed a companion film to Blood in the Face and a second documentary film, Feed, and has co-produced web videos for GuardianFilms.

Additional information and samples of James Ridgeway’s work can be found on his web site, http://jamesridgeway.net.

This article is republished in the Baltimore Chronicle with permission of the author.



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This story was published on September 11, 2009.