'Smiling Bob' Spots Imitate Prescription Ads

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A humorous television commercial for a nutritional supplement claiming to be a "natural male enhancement" imitates some of the characteristics of direct-to-consumer prescription drug ads.


But since Enzyte, a product of LifeKey Healthcare Inc., Cincinnati, is a nutritional supplement and not a prescription drug, it is not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration's guidelines on prescription drug advertising.


The "Smiling Bob" ads, so dubbed because the character wears a fixed grin throughout the spot, have run on national cable stations, including Comedy Central, ESPN and MSNBC, since February.


Steve Warshak, vice president of marketing at LifeKey, said the similarities to DTC drug ads are intentional, but they aren't trying to trick anyone. Instead, the firm is hoping to differentiate its products from others in the category.


"We wanted to give it a little more professional appeal," he said. "It's a premium product. We want people to see it that way."


LifeKey makes no claim that Enzyte can increase a man's penis size, Warshak said. The claim is limited to a fuller erection and a better sex life.


According to LifeKey, the ads, and the product, are working. Warshak said 82 percent of first-time buyers are reordering the product.


There are no rules against nutritional supplements following prescription-drug guidelines in their advertising, according to the FDA. Claims that supplements cure diseases and dysfunctions, such as impotence, are prohibited. General claims that supplements can improve health or well-being, such as ones that a supplement improves sexual performance, are allowed.


An FDA spokesman said the agency does not review commercials for nutritional supplements before they go to market and could act only if the ads become the subject of consumer complaints.


The Direct Marketing Association's ethical guidelines prohibit commercial solicitations that could be mistaken for "bills, invoices or notices from public utilities or government agencies." But the ads only bear similarities to government-regulated solicitations and do not claim to be from the government.


"It doesn't sound like it's a guideline violation," DMA spokesman Louis Mastria said.


The Enzyte ads feature an office worker, "Bob," who draws stares from co-workers because of his constant, wide-eyed grin. His neighbor stares as the office worker, still grinning, waves as he returns home. A hose the neighbor is using to water his lawn goes limp.


The worker is greeted at his door by his wife, who also has a permanent ear-to-ear smile. The commercial ends with a call for consumers to ask their doctor for more information, visit a Web site or call a toll-free number for a brochure. Warshak said the company sent informational mailers to 18,000 doctors last summer to educate them about the product.


Furthermore, the stylized Enzyte logo is similar to those used in prescription drug ads and appears to list the name of Enzyte's active ingredient, "suffragium asotas," underneath the brand name.


The spot addresses the gist of the product subtly, and it's not clear exactly what Enzyte does until the end of the commercial.


"We're not looking to offend people," Warshak said. "We're not looking for children to see things they shouldn't see - yet still get the point across."


Not everyone is convinced the ads are a smiling matter. Cable news network CNBC pulled the Enzyte ads earlier this year. A spokeswoman said the ads failed to meet the network's "standards and practices" rules. The ads promote an unregulated ingestible product and make claims that cannot be substantiated, she said.


Warshak said he understood CNBC's decision "if [the ad] doesn't meet what they want on the station." Whereas prescription drug companies need doctors to prescribe their products, LifeKey Healthcare sells Enzyte directly at www.enzyte.com. A month's supply costs $99.95, plus shipping.


Also, "suffragium asotas" appears not to be a name for a single ingredient but rather a proprietary name for a combination of herbal ingredients, an FDA spokesman said. According to a Chicago Tribune story, the words could loosely be translated from Latin as "refuge for the dissipated."


Warshak said he came up with the name to describe the herbal mix contained in Enzyte without giving away the exact recipe, which is proprietary.


The commercials appear to be gaining attention for the product. On April 29, Internet search engine Lycos, in its "Lycos 50" report, said queries for Enzyte "have exhibited a remarkably consistent growth curve," quadrupling since mid-March. Lycos said Enzyte is close to surpassing searches for impotence drug Viagra and beat out searches for well-known entertainment figures, including Howard Stern and Eminem.


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