Viagra is penetrating the sports market more deeply than ever. Pfizer, makers of the little blue pills, got things going last year by sponsoring NASCAR driver Mark Martin, then 42, on the Winston Cup circuit. In January, Pfizer signed Pel�, the 61-year-old soccer god, to promote awareness of erectile dysfunction, and the company will soon unveil a series of TV and print ads featuring Rangers first baseman Rafael Palmeiro as part of a one-year sponsorship deal with Major League Baseball.
On the surface Pfizer's plan is clear—to reach the overwhelmingly male sports-fan demographic. But the signing of Palmeiro, 37, also marks an evolution in the company's marketing strategy. Palmeiro, an active and healthy athlete, projects a markedly different image than that of Pfizer's first nationally prominent pitchman, 78-year-old former senator Bob Dole. Palmeiro's presence may help to erase what Pfizer spokesman Geoffrey Cook calls "the stigma associated with erectile dysfunction."
It's a stigma that Palmeiro has personally experienced. Shortly after news of his sponsorship leaked last month, Palmeiro's agent, Fernando Cuza, said, "I want to be clear that Rafael does not suffer from this problem. But he knows the size of the problem." Cuza's comments left observers to ponder the curiosity of Pfizer hiring a spokesman who denied using its product. On Monday, Palmeiro set things straight. "The truth is, I, like many others, do have occasional problems," Palmeiro said in a statement. "I do, when needed, take Viagra."
Pfizer has also targeted sports fans with its NASCAR promotions, including setting up mobile health centers at Winston Cup races. There, male fans can have their cholesterol and blood pressure checked before completing a survey that asks questions like, "How would you rate your confidence that you could get and keep an erection?" The plan seems to be working: Last year some 50,000 men visited the centers.