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The Marketing Genius of Erectile Dysfunction

We must tip our hats to the creative and strategic geniuses among us who took one of the most embarrassing maladies literally known to man and made it sexy.
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We must tip our hats to the creative and strategic geniuses among us who took one of the most embarrassing maladies literally known to man and made it sexy. Erectile Dysfunction (ED) has gone from eunuch-forming to brawn building. Not only can men have ED, but they can look more virile than ever on classy TV spots with attractive women in their age brackets after they've rectified it.

Ad agencies the world over used to rely on before and after shots to show successful medication use. We were the sneeze with a red nose and watery eyes to show the common cold and smile under sunshine to show relief from it industry. Yet in the case of ED, this formula presented a unique set of issues. (Certainly before or after shots would not be thought highly of by the FCC, FTC or network executives). Thanks to Pfizer's Viagra ad agency and others, we've profited by putting a positive spin on what was once considered verboten and humiliating. Instead of showing suffering, we've successfully shown the emotional benefits of medicinal solution. And in the process, we took what was once a shamed a population and made it stand tall once more.

ED has taught us that positive mindset advertising can change consumers' perception of the things that embarrass them most. And therein lies an even bigger opportunity. What if we were to identify other maligned conditions and made them acceptable?

Taking a page out of the ED playbook, the mental health industry could grow by the billions of dollars. Make it okay to have a mental issue and a sign of strength to want get better, and corporations and therapists the world over will profit.

TV commercials for depression drugs show depressed people feeling wildly depressed. Depressed people already know how bad they feel. Why not show them happy and well? Proud that they are no longer depressed? Living full and complete lives? We didn't show men suffering in the bedroom from ED, so why make depression suffers who already feel bad feel worse and more ashamed of their illnesses? Pharmaceutical companies can learn a lesson from ED and begin to sell a host of medications that deliver on the hope of mental wellness.

The opportunity may be even greater in the realm of therapeutic services, but a monumental shift in ideology will be necessary. The AMA, ADA and ABA have long allowed their members to advertise (with varying forms of regulation) for years. Yet the vast majority of Psychological associations and licensing boards allow for no solicitation of any kind. In the United States, you can advertise various ways to sedate one's self with a host of adult beverages, but it is unacceptable to let those looking for mental health to know that services to help them exist. Given the billion dollars consumers spend on the outside of themselves every year, basic logic would lead us to believe people would be willing to spend on the inside as well. Talk therapy, group, in-patient facilities all stand to benefit.

If Viagra is any indication, the righting the mental health ship begins a change in perception, championed by advertising. If we can convince potential consumers that it's not only all okay but a wonderfully strong sign of moral fiber to work on one's gray matter, we'll help create the next multi-billion dollar marketing opportunity.

Sarah O'Leary is a creative marketing expert and owner of Logic Marketing for Sales. She can be reached at

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