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Digital Pharma: Pfizer's multi-media dead rat

Published on 04/11/09 at 02:51pm
Dominic Tyer
Pfizer's Real Danger campaign

Pfizer has given a multi-media boost to its hard-hitting 'dead rat' campaign, which warns about the dangers of buying counterfeit medicines.

First launched as cinema adverts at the beginning of this year, the campaign hit the small screen last night when it was shown on UK television for the first time.

The TV ads, however, are just the start of a multi-faceted expansion of the campaign, which is intended to provide a major public awareness drive about the dangers of fake medicines.

Pfizer's Viagra and other treatments for erectile dysfunction are among the most widely counterfeited drugs, and there are thousands of websites worldwide that peddle fake versions.

To raise awareness of the dangers such websites pose, Pfizer is running UK roadshows and a country-wide poster campaign.

The 'counterfeit medicines can kill you' poster campaign features even starker warnings than the TV ads, and will be seen at the roadside, in railway stations and in pub and club washrooms.

The washroom versions of this will include two, ahem, executions: "Body inside a cooling cabinet, apparently a morgue" and "man lays collapsed in a doorway".

Thankfully the pharma company is taking rather a lighter tone with its 'catch a rat' online game. This was developed in partnership with the Sun newspaper online and aims highlight the dangers of counterfeit medicines, but in an amusing way.

It can be found on the re-launched its website and entails using your computer mouse to chase animated rats around the screen with a bottle of poison.

Meanwhile, looking to cover the educational end of the spectrum, the company's 'Men at work' roadshows, which feature a mock counterfeit factory, will travel around the UK over the next two months. Today they're visiting Birmingham and future stops include Manchester, Edinburgh, Leeds and London.

Pfizer's 'dead rat' ad

The campaign's central ad, which shows a man coughing-up a dead rat, was devised by healthcare advertising agency Langland and produced as part of a collaboration with medicines regulator the MHRA and patient charities.

It features a graphic warning - a middle-aged man takes a counterfeit tablet and suffers an alarming side-effect when he regurgitates a rat.

The stomach-churning image was inspired by rat poison being found in some counterfeit drugs.

The advert ends with the warning: "Rat poision - just one of the dangerous ingredients found in fake medicines purchased from illegal websites".

The TV ads will not be shown before 11pm. It was previously awarded a '15' rating by the British Board of Film Classification before being shown at around 600 cinemas between January and March this year.

The Advertising Standards Authority received 63 complaints about the ad, but subsequently ruled it did not breach advertising regulations and the 'dead rat' imagery was justified.

The ASA also found it did not cause fear or distress without good reason and was unlikely to cause serious or widespread offence.

Earlier this year the cinema advert and a short 'making of' video could be seen at Pfizer UK's, YouTube channel but these were recently removed and the television ad uploaded in their place.

Dominic Tyer is web editor for Pharmafocus and and the author of the Digital Pharma blog. He can be contacted via email, Twitter or LinkedIn.

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