The introduction of the medicinal partner in direct-to-consumer advertising: Viagra’s contribution to pharmaceutical fetishism and patient-as-consumer discourse in healthcare

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Janelle Applequist *
(*) Corresponding Author:
Janelle Applequist |


Pfizer, manufacturer of the erectile dysfunction prescription treatment Viagra, has been a staple in the pharmaceutical advertising arena since broadcast versions of such ads became legally permissible in the United States in 1997. Given that the patent for Viagra is soon set to expire, it is important that research take a look back in an attempt to contextualize the brand’s place in shaping medicinal marketing culture. Of particular interest is the period beginning in 2014, when Viagra’s most unconventional campaign yet began using a tactic that was the first of its kind for the pharmaceutical industry. By removing the actual consumer of the medication from these ads (males), Viagra has paved the way for pharmaceutical advertising to target the medicinal partner. This manuscript reviews the first use of the medicinal partner in the pharmaceutical advertising sector, conducting a textual analysis of Viagra’s use of this mediated relationship. The medicinal partner is the pharmaceutical industry’s attempt to target a patient’s social circle in an effort to promote a discourse that suggests a medicinal remedy for a problem. This analysis describes how social meaning and relationships underlie the market transaction of obtaining a prescription, as has been previously established through the processes of medicalization and pharmaceutical fetishism. These advertisements create belief in the larger sense, meaning Pfizer is infiltrating upon the patient’s process of choice and consumption of medicinal remedies. Viagra is simultaneously encouraging male consumers to celebrate the brand while using female ambassadors to influence the decision to request medicinal intervention.

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