Professional journalists work amid a crumbling ad climate, so it’s a bit churlish to take after a loyal industry that helps keep paychecks flowing. Still, I cannot help but commemorate Tuesday, Feb. 19 — the day the Star Tribune’s sports section was 100 percent sponsored by erectile dysfunction potions.
And not just any ED elixirs — no, these are the special kinds, so mysterious in the ways of the herb that the Food and Drug Administration does not evaluate them! Aspire36, promising you will “Satisfy Her Like Never Before,” and Vazopren, the giver of “Maximum Sexual Performance.”
The, er, deflating news? The two quarter-page ads were the only ones in the eight-page section — a truly abysmal percentage that will get journalists agitated in all the wrong ways.
For the record, the Strib is not alone in taking solicitations for these capsules, or their close cousins, the “instructional” sex tapes. A Google search turned up newspaper ads in Memphis, San Jose and Philadelphia, among others. America is long past its plain-brown-wrapper days — and even if this stuff is quack patent medicine, it is legal (and largely unregulatable, thanks to Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch, who’s spearheaded laws protecting the state’s major herbal remedy industry).
Newspapers do have advertising standards, but I’m hard-pressed to tell you what the Strib’s currently are. My repeated queries were funneled to the paper’s communications honcho, Ben Taylor, who remained incommunicado. (Stories like this won’t exactly open that door.) In the past, the paper has had policies against nasty visuals in strip club ads, though the heavily made-up bimbos who pitch go juice and soft-core video porn are perhaps more high-minded. To a certain extent, they’re no more salacious than the bra ads in the A section or the movie ads in Source, and a cut above the phone-sex ads in City Pages.
Back to those capsules: Just how loudly do they quack? The FDA won’t comment, and a Google search turned up no stories of related deaths. The scary thing about Vazopren is that half the search-results pages are Russian; the Aspire36 search turned up hair-raising testimonials from bodybuilding sites where participants rave about their stamina yet add comments like “I’ve experienced a really bad headache lasting well over 14 hrs and redness in the face. Will try drinking more water next time, like someone suggested here.”
Though this Associated Press story didn’t mention either product, it’s still a cautionary tale. “For men on common heart and blood-pressure drugs, popping one could lead to a stroke, or even death. ‘All-natural’ products with names like Stamina-RX and Vigor-25 promise an apothecary’s delight of rare Asian ingredients, but many work because they contain unregulated versions of the very pharmaceuticals they are supposed to replace.”
It’s probably logical that as legitimate advertisers drift away, bottom feeders will increasingly share the page with professional journalism. There’s irony in that, though some media-haters might regard it as a perfectly natural coupling. In any case, buyer beware.