Pfizer Allays House Concerns by Dropping Lipitor Ads Featuring Jarvik

Feb 25, 2008  •  Post A Comment

Pfizer is pulling its Lipitor ad featuring Dr. Robert Jarvik, which has created a wave of controversy. The drug company also promised to do a better job of clarifying its use of spokespeople in future advertising messages.
The company, under pressure from leaders of the House Energy & Commerce Committee, announced its decision today.
In a statement, Ian Read, Pfizer’s president of worldwide pharmaceutical operations, said that while Dr. Jarvik offered valuable and medically accurate information on the risks of Lipitor and how it can help patients with high cholesterol reduce their risk of heart attack, the ad’s presentation was misleading.
“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,” Mr. Read said in the statement.
The Lipitor ads, from Kaplan Thaler Group, feature Dr. Jarvik rowing a boat and saying that he’s a user of the product.
However, it was revealed after the ad began airing that the rowing was done by a stunt double and that Dr. Jarvik didn’t start taking Lipitor until after he was hired by Pfizer.
The House committee also suggested that the ad presents Dr. Jarvik as a medical expert, when most of his career has involved invention, including the artificial heart.
House Energy & Commerce Committee Chairman John D. Dingell, D-Mich., and Rep. Bart Stupak, chairman of oversight and investigations for the panel, praised Pfizer’s decision.
“Pfizer’s decision was a wise one, and I am pleased our investigation prompted the removal of Lipitor ads featuring Dr. Jarvik,” said Rep. Dingell. “We trust that Pfizer is sincere in its commitment to ‘greater clarity’ in its advertising. My colleagues and I look forward to meeting with Pfizer’s management team to discuss their plans related to direct-to-consumer advertising.”
Rep. Stupak said Pfizer was doing “the right thing.”
“When consumers see and hear a doctor endorsing medication, they expect the doctor is a credible individual with requisite knowledge of the drug,” Rep. Stupak said. “We will continue to investigate the deception that occurs in direct-to-consumer advertising of medications, including Pfizer’s Lipitor campaign. We plan to meet with Dr. Jarvik, collect all of the documents we’ve requested and closely review the facts. Drug companies should know that they will be held accountable for the representations made in their ads.”


  1. What I don’t get is why this sort of misleading AD campaign got by the decision-makers in the first place. I suppose it was for the usual reason: that the vast unwashed public will swallow anything they see on TV.
    For example most ads have a one microsecond half screen of totally unreadable fine print, often presented with 20% video levels. Do they really think that by these “disclosures” they can eliminate lawsuits?
    Nothing new about all this. I well remember back in the pre-war radio days many outrageous claims, that went unchallenged. Example:
    “Five New York Doctors tried Camels for 30 days,
    and at the end, 82% went back to women.”

  2. I have to agree with RED on this issue. However, the problem also stems from what the FCC and FDA consider “public interest.” I have no problem with advertizers using disclaimers, but they should make sure ADA (Americans with Disabilites Act) makes sure that those disclaimers are availible for all to clearly read. Those ads are clearly a lawsuit waiting to happen! When someone blind cannot read the specs of the potential med, they, the company can be sued. But then again, some of us think ahead, not 2 second forward and none more.
    In reality, is the above situation, ADA avilibility, such as CC services, in the Public Interest? I should think so.

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