ASA Concludes Pfizer’s Hard Hitting Counterfeit Medicines Advert ‘Did Not Breach Code’

By Prne, Gaea News Network
Tuesday, April 21, 2009

LONDON - The UK Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) today ruled that Pfizer’s groundbreaking cinema advertising in which a man is seen coughing-up a dead rat did not breach the industry advertising code.(1)

The advert, seen by cinema audiences across the UK, highlights the danger of obtaining medicines from unregulated sources (see Evidence shows there is a risk of these medicines being counterfeit, containing too little, too much or no active ingredient, or worse, toxic substances such as rat poison, boric acid or lead paint.(4)

The ASA investigated the advert having received 63 complaints from members of the public. The adjudication concludes that the aim of the advert justified the use of hard hitting imagery and that it did not cause fear or distress without good reason, and was unlikely to cause serious or widespread offence.

The adjudication quotes the Cinema Advertising Association (CAA), which classified the advertisement in the 15 years and above category, saying they “… believed the intended social good of the ad justified its impact.” The ASA adjudication comes just one week after a survey of 423 doctors, by GP magazine, found that 25 per cent of them had treated patients for side effects caused by medicines bought online.(5)

“We’re really pleased with the adjudication,” said Dr David Gillen, of Pfizer. “We set out to inform the public about the very real and growing threat from counterfeit medicines. We certainly did not want to offend people, but the dangers of obtaining medicines from unregulated sources are very real and we needed to forcefully communicate that message.”

Data shows that between 50% and 90% of all prescription-only medicines bought on-line from unregulated websites are counterfeit or substandard.(2)(3) Before launching the advertising, Pfizer commissioned research into the scale of the problem and discovered that more than 330,000 men in the UK are likely to buy prescription-only medicines without a prescription from illicit websites every year.(4)

Pfizer also discussed the issue with regulators and leading patient organisations. This resulted in the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), The Patients Association, Men’s Health Forum and HEART UK all supporting the advertising campaign and its objectives, and placing their logos within the advertisement itself.

“We are convinced that alerting people to this danger is a responsible course of action,” continued Dr Gillen. “We’ve gone to considerable lengths to try and guide people towards safer sources of prescription medicines, and that campaign will continue.”

In order to explain the reasons behind the advert and how the graphic images were achieved, Pfizer has created a short ‘Making of the advert’ video which can be seen at:

More information about the Get Real, Get a Prescription campaign can be found at:

Notes to Editors

1. About the advertisement

The Get Real, Get a Prescription cinema advert was shown at 651 screens (around 600 cinemas) nationally between 16 January and 5 March 2009. The advert was classified by both the British Board of Film Classification and the CAA as a ‘15′ rating which safeguarded it from being viewed by young children.

2. About Pfizer

Pfizer Inc, the world’s largest research-based pharmaceutical company, discovers, develops, manufactures and markets prescription medicines in 11 therapeutic areas including oncology, cardiovascular, pain, neuroscience and infectious diseases, including HIV/AIDS. Pfizer is also the world’s largest animal health company.

Pfizer Inc employs approximately 85,000 colleagues worldwide, all working together for a healthier world. Pfizer conducts more biomedical research than any other organisation, and has 12,000 professionals working in four major R&D sites worldwide, including Sandwich in Kent. Pfizer’s annual UK R&D investment is more than GBP550 million - more than GBP10 million a week.

In the UK, Pfizer has its European R&D headquarters at Sandwich and its UK business headquarters in Surrey, and is the major supplier of medicines to the NHS.


(1) Advertising Standards Authority: Adjudication report, Pfizer Counterfeit Medicines Advertisement, 22 April 2009. The ASA’s report concerned whether or not the advert breached provisions of the British Code of Advertising, Sales Promotion and Direct Marketing 2003 (CAP Code)

(2) Faucherand P. The evolving problem of counterfeiting and piracy. Presentation at Workshop in the Application of Targeted Risk Management on IPRs for Customs and Economic Police. 2-6 April 2007. Last accessed on 09.02.09 from

(3) Report on community customs activities on counterfeit and piracy, European Union, Taxation and Customs Union, 2007. Last accessed on 09.02.09 From

(4) Pfizer: Cracking Counterfeit report, October 2008

(5) Daily Telegraph. Warning over internet drugs as a quarter of GP’s treat patients for complications. Last accessed on 16.04.09 from

Source: Pfizer Inc.

For further media information, please contact: Charlotte Binstead or Kate Thornton, The Red Consultancy on +44(0)20-7025-6500 or pfizerteam at; Or, Pfizer press office +44(0)845-300-8033 or pressofficeUK at

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