The hokey new ad for Levitra.

Advertising deconstructed.
Dec. 30 2003 11:06 AM

Romancing the Tire Swing

What's up with that hokey Levitra ad?

Spot: "Stay in the Game."

Product: Levitra.

Seth Stevenson Seth Stevenson

Seth Stevenson is a frequent contributor to Slate. He is the author of Grounded: A Down to Earth Journey Around the World.

Click here to view the ad Synopsis: A middle-aged guy, just about to mow his lawn, sees a football in his backyard shed. He tries to throw the football through a tire (conveniently strung from a nearby tree). Doink—no dice. The voice-over suggests you "ask your doctor about new Levitra." Levitra's logo (the word next to the silhouette of a burning flame) pops up on screen, and you hear the sound of a match being struck. The suddenly reinvigorated man throws the ball straight through the tire, again and again. A smiling woman joins him in the yard. They nuzzle.

Analysis: This Levitra spot recently hit No. 1 in an ad tracking poll (run by the Intermedia Advertising Group) that measures things like viewer recall, message understanding, and likeability. So it's a big hit. Which is astonishing, since it never once explains what Levitra is or what it's for.

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This is a "non-indicated" ad, meaning it doesn't indicate what the hell the pill does. If it did, it would be required to include "fair balance information," including warnings about potential side effects. (You know—a pleasant female voice mentions "sudden internal bleeding" as though she were saying, "I like your sweater.")

I asked Michael Fleming, of GlaxoSmithKline product communications (Levitra's jointly marketed by GSK and Bayer), why they used a non-indicated ad. He said it was to avoid wasting precious airtime on the side effects rigmarole. Plus, when the product launched in August, they ran lots of indicated print ads, so they felt people were plenty familiar with Levitra's purpose.

In case you haven't figured it out, Levitra is an erectile dysfunction drug. The football-through-tire imagery—at once hokey and icky—makes that pretty obvious to viewers of the ad. (The woman's gratified smile reinforces the point.) I asked Fleming if, given the wink-winkness of the spot, it didn't come dangerously close to being indicated. In other words, at what point is the hint so blatant that you have to list side effects? Is the football-through-tire image almost too on the nose, in a legal sense?

"I don't think anyone has drawn that comparison," he said, totally deadpan.

Honestly, you've never heard anyone compare the football-through-tire thing to, um, doing it? "I've never heard that."

OK, we won't give him too hard a time for doing his job, but that's absurd. The image is almost hilariously obvious. Fleming says they considered several other concepts before choosing this one, but he won't reveal any rejected ideas because they might still be used in future spots. Sweet! Can't wait for the one where a man shoots pool with a length of rope!

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