Ads for Anti-AIDS Drug Viracept Will Come With Warning
Advertisements for Viracept, an anti-AIDS drug made by Agouron Pharmaceuticals, will now carry a warning that the drug does not cure or prevent the spread of HIV, the New York Times reports. The new Viracept ads, which are slated to appear in the May issues of more than 100 magazines and newspapers, will include the line "HIV drugs do not cure HIV infection or prevent you from spreading the disease." The addition of these "cautionary words" comes two weeks after the FDA sent letters to eight makers of anti-AIDS drugs, including Agouron, warning them that their products "could no longer be advertised without noting their limitations." And health officials and AIDS advocates have recently voiced concerns that ads for anti-AIDS drugs "are too optimistic in their portrayals" of people "living with AIDS." But officials at Agouron, a division of Pfizer Inc., said that the decision to add the warning "was in the works before Agouron received the warning letter from the FDA." The new ads will appear in print media read primarily by gay men, lesbians and HIV-positive individuals, including national magazines such as the Advocate and Out, and local publications for resort communities such as Fire Island, N.Y., and Rehobeth Beach, Del.
A Different Ad Campaign
Agouron officials say that their ad campaign differs from those of other anti-AIDS drug makers in more ways than just the warning label. Catherine O'Connor, manager for consumer marketing at Agouron, said that the company has sought ads with a "real, humanistic approach," a strategy that was "not like what was already out there." The Viracept ad campaign, which carries the theme "Plan your future with Viracept," features "portrait-style photographs" of individuals with HIV who are seen "standing as if caught in a moment of thought or reflection rather than engaged in strenuous pursuits," the Times reports. The Times notes that the models, all of whom are HIV-positive, are "generally healthy looking," but "none could be described as Adonises or Venuses." The text in the ads consists of "affirmations" such as "Because where I go from here is up to me" and "Because I may be scared but I'm not alone." Mike Devlin, creative director at CCA Advertising, which produces the ads for Agouron, said that the ads intend to portray Viracept as "a choice, not the answer," adding that they focus on "the efficacy of the drug and not on the beautiful, buff people." O'Connor and Devlin said that the images in the Viracept ads will not be replaced because they are "generally representative of HIV patients and not unrealistically glossy." However, O'Connor said that she understands why other companies have chosen to include images of mountain-climbing models in their ads. "From a marketing point of view, you could understand what they were trying to do, asking people to relate the powerful activities to the power of the drug. I don't think they were saying 'If you take this drug, you can climb mountains.' But people want to see themselves in the advertising. If you see someone mountain-climbing, you want to relate that to yourself." Todd Evans, president and CEO of Rivendell Marketing, which sells ad space for publications read by gay men and lesbians, said that although he feels some ads unrealistically portray the lifestyle of a person with HIV, he feels the advertising is crucial to maintain marketability for a drug. "I'm concerned as a gay person that if you take the profitability from HIV drugs, the companies will go on to larger markets with greater profits," he said (Elliott, New York Times, 5/10).