In its most recent TV and print ads for Lipitor, Pfizer highlights a middle-aged man working out in a gym. In bold text and voice overs, the ad asks “Are You Kidding Yourself?” The print ad — an example from this week’s Time Magazine is shown here (click for an enlarged view) — goes on to say “A lot of people think exercise and healthy diet are enough to lower cholesterol. For 2 out 3, it may not be.”

Damn! You mean that the odds of me lowering my cholesterol via exercise and diet are only 1 in 3?

This is the first time I have ever seen a DTC (direct to consumer) ad that so blatantly “disses” exercise and diet. At least, that’s what it sounds like to me.

Older Lipitor ads featured active people — mostly men — such as “doctors” rowing and guys skiing or biking, etc. These ads only hinted that lifetstyle changes may not be enough. Recent ads, however, appear to be CRITICAL of those among us who are trying to change our lifestyles.

In fact, IMHO, the new Lipitor ads come very close to violating PhRMA’s “Guiding Principles for Direct to Consumer Advertisements About Prescription Medicines”; especially principle #12, which states “DTC television and print advertising should include information about the availability of other options such as diet and lifestyle changes where appropriate for the advertised condition.”

Yes, the new Lipitor ads do say “When healthy diet and exercise are not enough..” and “Along with diet, Lipitor….[blah, blah]. Pfizer, therefore, obeys the letter of the guidelines, but maybe not the spirit. Should I report this ad to PhRMA’s “Office of Accountability?” I didn’t have much luck the last time I did that (see “Adventures of PhRMA Intern!“, a Pharma Marketing Blog “Classic”).

The other criticism I have is in regard to the “2 out 3” claim. What’s the basis for that statement of fact? I can find no reference to any data in support of that claim in the ad. The site attempts to “prove” the claim with even more unsubstantiated claims: “Only about 25% of cholesterol comes from the foods you eat. The other 75% is made by the body. Factors such as age and family history affect how much cholesterol your body makes. That’s why, for 2 out of 3 people with high cholesterol, diet and exercise alone aren’t enough and a cholesterol-lowering medicine, like LIPITOR, may be necessary.”

Maybe factors such as amount of exercise ALSO affect how much cholesterol your body makes or affect how cholesterol is disposed of in your body. Maybe exercise helps stop the build up of plaque in your arteries due to high cholesterol. Etc.

Perhaps Pfizer is trying to counteract “Non-prescription Cholesterol Lowering” advice from physicians on the Internet (see here, for example) or is getting desperate as Lipitor sales continue to tank around the world (see “Pfizer Sales Lag, Hurt by Generic Lipitor, Effexor“).

Whatever. I think it’s the wrong message when a DTC ad leads off with “dissing” healthy lifestyle options with the phrase “Are You Kidding Yourself?” Perhaps it was meant to be just a way to capture my attention (which it did), but it SOUNDS to me like its challenging my decision to exercise and eat healthy, which directly conflicts with the advice of my doctor. Talk about interfering with the patient-doctor relationship!