Marketing case study: How to market your weakness as a strength

sid dhuri
2 min readMay 15, 2022


In 2008, Eli Lilly won the Marketing Overdose Award for the promotion of its erectile dysfunction (ED) drug, Cialis. How did Cialis achieve this in a market dominated by Pfizer’s Viagra ?

Late Comer

Cialis was approved by the FDA in November of 2003. It was the newest entrant in a ED market, and needed to capture public’s attention quickly.

In 2003, the ED market was dominated by Pfizer’s blockbuster drug Viagra and another drug Levitra which was co-marketed by Bayer, GSK, and Schering-Plough.

While Levitra had only a 3 month lead over Cialis, Viagra had a 5 year head start.

Product weakness

Compared to its competitors Cialis had a slower onset of action than its competitors: 45 minutes compared to 30 minutes of competitor drugs. Onset of action is the time required for the drug to take effect. Which meant that Cialis would need more time to take effect in the user.

Also Cialis had a longer half-life (half-life is the period of time that it takes the body to metabolize and excrete 1/2 of the therapeutic dose of the medication),

Physicians viewed this as a drawback because the medication stayed in patients’ systems longer, and had a rare side effects of four-hour erections.

Marketing weakness as a strength

Cialis invested in market research to position the brand so that is could compete against the stiff competition from already established brands.

In their research, Lilly discovered a key insight that erectile dysfunction is not just about male performance, but about couples and their intimacy. Couples want the liberty to choose when they get intimate; couples don’t want to be constrained in a time slot.

Cialis translated this insight into the big idea of “spontaneity” and freedom to choose the right time, which has now become inherent to the brand strategy and positioning.

“Our patients want flexibility. They want flexibility to choose when the moment is right for them and Cialis is proven to work up to 36 hours and as fast as 30 minutes in some men. I think it has been successful and in 2006 worldwide sales increased 30 percent, up to $971 million. In some countries, such as France, Cialis has been the market leader for over a year. I absolutely think the 36-hour effectiveness has been a benefit that lead to the success of Cialis” — Eli Lilly

With focused market research Lilly was able to understand people’s perception about erectile dysfunction and capture their unmet needs. Lilly translated Cialis’s “slow onset” and “longer half-life” shortcomings into brand differentiators to capture markets share and surpass competitor sales.

Very soon nearly two thirds of all men who switched their oral ED treatment switched to Cialis — ImpactRx



sid dhuri

I am data scientist by trade. I love to write about data science, marketing and economics. I founded a marketing ai, analytics and automation platform.