Pfizer—Does CVD stand for Commercial Very Dumb?


We all live in a world in which change is the only constant, where new ideas bring about better things for our lives, in which there is a constant effort to improve on what our forbearers had to deal with and live without. But sometimes, things get a bit off track. Sometimes, there is a reason to say STOP! This is one of those times. Enough is enough.

There is currently a television/cinema commercial floating around which is entitled "falling star." It was produced for a group called the Boomer Coalition (Pfizer and the American Heart Association). It was produced by one of the new wave of advertising agencies that are currently circulating around Manhattan Island, called Strawberryfrog.

Here is a description of the spot:
Open on an extreme long shot of a drive-in movie theatre. We see a Spielburg-esque shot of a beam of light hitting a car door speaker.

Cut to a medium shot of the screen. On it are a mixture of black and white cuts from old movies and/or television shows showing James Coburn, John Ritter, Peter Sellers, Cass Elliott, Don Drysdale, Redd Foxx, and an unrecognizable basketball player (remember, these are each up for but a second or less).

Behind the unmutable (sic) voice of John Kay (Steppenwolf doing "Magic Carpet Ride," nobody's favorite song), we hear a cacophony of swooshing sounds straight out of the Rocket Man serials from the fifties. What is more unfitting or confusing or distracting? It’s hard to tell. There's so much to choose from

An announcer says:
"One by one, we’ve lost them all to CVD, America’s number one killer. CVD is preventable. Let’s fight CVD. Join the Boomer Coalition."


And that's it.

A completely unscientific poll showed that 0 of 12 people knew what CVD is. Shouldn't that be something people should know after watching this…thing? Is it a secret, or a new kind of video disc? Oh, come on—you can tell us.

Is it something to do with Drive-in movies? They peaked in the mid-fifties and are all but gone.

Or Steppenwolf? They OD'd in the late 60's and are still trying to find where they parked the car.

While all of the people in the commercial are indeed dead, it is doubtful that any of them had more than a passing acquaintance with each other, so there’s no clue there, either.

If you go to, you find a website that is so bizarre it makes one wonder if it is a joke. After searching a bit, the secret is revealed: CVD is heart disease!

People are dying from heart disease. It can be slowed or stopped if you take a few simple precautions. Go to our website and find out what they are. That's really all the commercial is about. Now, how can you be sure people are going to listen, and take away some information, and respond? Hint: this is not the way.

Heart disease is never mentioned--even on the home page of the site. Along with typos and some pretty strange ideas (Use Elvis' birthday to fight heart disease?) it appears to be a joke in itself. But that's another story.

Back to the obnoxious commercial. One: who is supposed to understand it? Two: who is supposed to respond to it? Three: why would anyone care? Four: who is that basketball player?

Here's the big one: Five. What has happened to the craft of producing advertising that delivers a clear message, persuades, explains and sells? PSA or a commercial for an obnoxiously expensive car, that’s what all commercials are born to do.

Cute, funny, shocking, explosive, expensive, inexpensive, overly expensive, heart wrenching, maddening, touching, or boring, none of it means a single thing if the spot doesn't sell.

Why does using old music from one era, an icon from a different era, and a bad pun about falling stars make anyone willing to take action that will affect themselves or their loved ones? There is no strategy, no reason to act, no basis for empathy.

If everyone within the audience for the particular product or commercial doesn't get up from his or her chair just a bit more likely to make a move in the direction that a commercial suggests, someone (the client) has just wasted more money that it would take to rebuild four blocks in Biloxi, Mississippi after Katrina.

Somehow, this has been lost in the mix. Someone has forgotten that commercials are not entertainment—they are a marketing tool. They shouldn't cost money, they should pay for themselves, whether it's in money or actions.

Who is the audience for the commercial? Supposedly people who are in danger of having heart disease or know people who are. Why does the fact at famous people have died involve them? Why does not telling them what the commercial is about make them more able to respond?

This commercial is shameful. It is a total waste of money. And being for a good cause (people do die of heart disease when they don’t have to) it is just this side of criminal.

But this commercial is merely the last straw, a scapegoat taking a hit that too much of American advertising deserves. Advertising agencies used to have some clout, some weight in the world of business. They were for marketing what a good lawyer is for an important trial, or a doctor for an operation that will save your life. You listened because they knew something you didn't.

Today, agencies are becoming a joke. They are no longer respected for their minds, nor, in most cases, should they be.

Agencies are now like sailboats. They're pretty holes into which businesses throw money, not really expecting anything but a bit of wind in their faces. Sure they're fun to have around and show off to friends. But no one really takes them seriously. What fun would that be?

Clients, if you accept this kind of crap from your agency, you just may deserve what you’re getting. Demand your moneys' worth. Agencies, if you try and palm off this drivel at the current inexcusable costs, you are liars and cheats. Enough is enough. Let’s get back to business.

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Comments (1)

  • philmang's picture

    actually, while you can perhaps take issue with the strategic goal of rebranding Heart Disease and Stroke as CVD (CardioVascular Disease) in order to get Americans to think about it differently, taking issue with this piece is a bit absurd. To me, this piece did exactly what it was supposed to do, illustrated at least in part by your reaction no matter how over blown; it opened dialog. The campaign is one of rebranding and re-engaging people to get them to think and engage in the dialog around CVD. CVD is more than heart disease, and has been in the news and fairly marketed in the last year.

    Perhaps you should stop trying to assume that every piece of communications should tell the whole story, and instead accept that there should be full suite of engagement media pieces and avenues used to open up a dialog between the consumer and the message/brand.

    Oct 28, 2005

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