How Cialis’s marketing stood UP

The following is a summary of the “Product Team Cialis: Getting Ready to Market” by Elie Ofek.

Cialis was finding itself in a tough position in the market: going up against Viagra – established the market leader. To make matters worst, Viagra had generated $1 Bil. + in for the past three years and Viagra was the most recognised pharmaceutical brand internationally. The drug was submitted for approval to the FDA and European Agency for the Evaluation of Medical Products in the summer of 2001, and a brand council, tasked with brainstorming and formalising the marketing initiative of Cialis, was scheduled for January 2002. The challenge of the organisers was to clearly identify the target market for the drug and figure out how to position the product. This decision would guide all future marketing initiatives. Cialis could have been marketed as:

  1. Niche product to target a relatively small market,
  2. Competing product to Viagra, the established market player, or
  3. Superior product strategy with a differentiated offering.

Once ICOS discovered the preliminary version of Cialis, the company had to decide whether license the drug to a more established company or enter a joint venture with an established company, which turned out to be Eli Lilly and Company. This was an important decision because the CEO realised that if ICOS was ever to become any bigger, it needed to participate in sales, marketing and regulatory side of the business as well.

Elli Lillie and Company was to take the lead on the marketing of the new product. Its marketing strategy was unique because:

  1. At the time, pharmaceutical companies were the only shooting for blockbuster drugs (e.g. $ 500 Mil +)
  2. “Lifestyle” drugs that treated non-life-threatening diseases that cured baldness, skin disorder, erectile dysfunction, etc. were are being sought. These products were more like a supplement and less like an Advil (i.e. customers didn’t need them), thus positioning and marketing played a crucial role.
  3. changes to marketing standards in 1997, allows pharmaceutical companies to market their products directly to customers.

Interestingly, Lilly organised its marketing efforts globally by setting up distinct affiliates with regional responsibilities. Lilly then organised brand councils where the product team would present their vision for the new product and present sales and marketing number for it so that affiliates were involved early on.

The joint venture then systematically planned and undertook the marketing. Firstly, they chose a neutral name, Cialis, so that the brand associations they seek could be moulded into it later. Secondly, they determined that the most important factor to doctors when looking to prescribe the medication was efficacy. Thirdly, by questioning Urologists and Primary Care Providers(PCP), the Cialis team understood that Urologists understood Erectile Dysfunction (ED) well and were comfortable discussing it with their patients, while PCP lacked the necessary knowledge and was uncomfortable discussing it with their patient. Fourthly, the Global Market Research (GMR) team understood a study to better understand patients internally and their perception of ED.  This study revealed tonnes of interesting insight, such as the age of average ED patients, their education level, reasons for seeking treatment, barriers to seeking treatment, current treatments, satisfaction with Viagra, etc. Fifthly, given the fact that most ED sufferers were married, the team determined it was crucial to interview their partners as well. This revealed that there was a wide range of knowledge regarding the causes of ED and options for treating it, which was again an opportunity for Cialis.Lastly, the most interesting finding from the study was the fact that patients experienced a downward spiral, e.g. ED made feel embarrassed, which made them question their role in the relationship, which hurt their self-image, etc.

In order to penetrate the market, the Cialis team sought out doctors and other respected specialists in the field of ED to help them design, validate, and present the studies.






Ofek, Elie. “Product Team Cialis: Getting Ready to Market.” Harvard Business School Case 505-038, October 2004. (Revised July 2010.)

Hadi is Honours civil of engineering graduate with solid project management experience in the construction industry. Solutions-focused, results-oriented with strong business acumen and entrepreneurial spirit. Currently, he is working as an assistant site-superintendant with Darcon Inc. at one of Vaughan's biggest developments, Centro Square.

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