Cialis Ads: Minimalist Narrative

I’ve been presenting ads that use narrative in my management and narratives course. Canadian Cialis ads are an interesting example of minimalist narrative, in which the ad tells only part of the story. For the story to make sense, the audience must supply the rest. Ads for treatments for erectile dysfunction are necessarily inexplicit, because television advertising codes prohibit portrayal of the end for which taking Cialis is a means.

Two recent ads have been shown repeatedly during baseball games because a large proportion of the viewers are middle-aged males, the target market for Cialis. They can be found on YouTube with the titles “Cialis curfew” and “Cialis opera.”

In “Cialis curfew,” a mother negotiates a curfew with her teenage son. The son asks to stay out until 8 p.m. and his mother “negotiates” an agreement that he return no later than 11. The son is nonplussed by his mother’s lenience, while at the end of the ad, the mother flashes a “cat that swallowed the canary” grin. The ad ends with an off-screen narrator saying “Cialis: ask your doctor.” We never see the mother’s partner, whom we’ll assume is her husband and the boy’s father, but we understand that the mother has been so lenient so that she and her husband can enjoy themselves early in the evening uninhibited by the presence of their son.

In “Cialis opera,” a middle-aged couple arrive late at the opera and take their seats. When the audience breaks into applause following an aria, they smile at one another in a way that suggests intimacy and satisfaction. The ad ends with the visual “Cialis: ask your doctor.” While we hear the opera, no words are spoken by the couple or anyone else during the ad. We understand that they are late because they have enjoyed themselves, aided by Cialis.

(“Cialis opera” brought to mind a personal anecdote. A year or two ago a middle aged couple arrived in the stands at a baseball game in the third inning. They were both very attractive, the male so much so that I thought he was a celebrity whose name I couldn’t remember. Recalling “Cialis opera,” I almost asked him whether he used Cialis or Viagra, but thought better of it.)

Not only do the ads illustrate minimalist narrative, but they illustrate the point that visual media show rather than tell. The three actors involved – the mother in “curfew” and the couple in “opera” – are excellent at suggesting through their facial expressions sexual anticipation in the former and sexual satisfaction in the latter.

These ads provide a sharp contrast with earlier Viagra ads in which middle-aged men are witnessed in the morning hopping around like bunny rabbits or energetic school boys. These ads were meant to convey delight at having achieved sexual satisfaction aided by Viagra but, to my mind, infantilize the men. Erectile dysfunction already infantilizes men, because it deprives them of an ability that defines male adulthood, while the Viagra ads present the restoration of that ability in a manner than further infantilizes them. The Cialis ads, on the other hand, present adult sexuality – the delightful anticipation of sex and the soul-restoring satisfaction of having had it – in a mature and realistic way. And that is why this student of narrative thinks they are effective.

 

1 comment

  1. This is so fascinating! I definitely agree that it is a much more effective way of reaching the target market – by associating the product in a benefits-based light as opposed to a problem-fixing one. I would even go one step farther to say that they have successfully expanded their market to incorporate female counterparts who are often forgotten in this particular industry, despite their having a large influence on the consumer decisions of their partners, especially in these circumstances.

    This was a really fun course. Wish I was still in the class to see all the new material you are showing. :)

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