Relief at a Stiff Price I: Marketing to the Male Ego

Steve Russell

This September, Advertising Age headed a report “Viagra Tries More Direct Approach To Get Rise Out of Men.” It referred to the newest ad campaign for the blue pill, featuring a woman rather than a man—and a woman who speaks directly as well. No more “age of knowing how to get things done.”  Viagra’s main competitors, Cialis and Levitra, are also said to be, if you will pardon the expression, retooling.

This month, The New York Times datelined a report Junín, Peru, about the scarcity of an indigenous food crop, maca, that is being hoarded, stolen, and smuggled out of the country in violation of Peruvian law. Thanks to the disruption of supplies, the cost of what Whole Foods sells as “Incan superfood” has spiked from $20 a pound to $30, with $80 expected next year. For the Peruvian Indians who labor in the fields to harvest maca, this translated to a raise from $9.65 a day last year to $11.37 this year and maca becoming too pricy for people who had always consumed it several days a week before the market went crazy.

Also this month, the Missoulian reported that the alleged ringleader of the largest bear poaching case in Montana history has been charged with five felonies. These felony busts follow a Huffington Post report in March that two men were arrested in Midland, Michigan for allegedly selling black bear parts to undercover officers from the Department of Natural Resources.

Several federal agencies—Fish and Wildlife, National Park, and Forestry—teamed up with state agencies in Georgia and North Carolina for Operation Something Bruin, an attempt to infiltrate bear poaching operations in the heart of traditional Cherokee country. Something Bruin wrapped up in 2013 with about 80 persons cited for over 900 violations.

Three seemingly diverse market reports—erectile dysfunction ads, bear poaching, and the disappearance from local markets of a food traditionally consumed by indigenous people in South America—are all related to middle aged men who think they can, for a price, evade the aging process that separates living people from the dead. Or, perhaps, as some of the ED ads illustrate, allow us to take up with women young enough to be our daughters to replace companions of our own age.

Viagra was the first Food and Drug Administration approved ED treatment to hit the market, and it did not start out so frivolous. An early spokesman was Bob Dole, disabled World War II hero and former GOP presidential candidate. Dole’s ED was the result of surgery in 1991 for prostate cancer and his participation in the marketing was aimed at men who had their sex lives hijacked by life-threatening conditions, not men who thought they needed to trade in their wives on a newer model.

Whatever the motivation of the male battle with ED, it has had collateral consequences for endangered species and for South American Indians.

RELATED: Relief at a Stiff Price II: Singing the Bear Song

RELATED: Relief at a Stiff Price III: Going the Way of Chocolate

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