Soccer

Pelé’s Shocked Fans When He Starred in a Viagra Commercial to Destigmatize Men’s Health

Pelé is still one of the biggest names in the history of soccer. During a time before soccer players were the global celebrities they are today, he entered the international sports lexicon in ways he still feels today. However, after hanging up his cleats in the ’70s, Pelé has become more of a celebrity than a world-famous athlete. One of these endeavors, an endorsement from Viagra, still shocks fans.

Pelé on men’s health

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Pelé was once one of the biggest names in pro sports. Before Michael Jordan, one would be hard-pressed to find too many athletes who had the international draw that the soccer legend did. Yes, he was one of the most dominating forces on the field, but he still was at risk for one of the most common medical problems men face. He spoke about this with Irish Independent News in 2003:

“At the beginning, I was surprised [to be approached by Pfizer] and in Brazil a lot of friends of mine told me to be careful and to find out what is the real message, what is the real campaign. But when I was in New York I got all the information on the situation all over the world and I thought that it is good to be part of this.” 

By attaching his name to such a product, he may have opened himself up for ridicule, but he also helped destigmatize a problem that many are afraid to acknowledge. Acknowledging the importance of a global reach, Pelé talked about how Viagra helps men take such health problems seriously. 

“In the campaign, we talk about taboo. As men, we don’t talk too much about our problem,” Pelé said. “I thought this was cultural, but it is not. We started the campaign in Japan. The Japanese are very different to Brazilians or Europeans. They were different but the same. This problem of ED is universal. It doesn’t matter about the culture.”

While he later admitted that he did not need Viagra, Pelé’s involvement with the product was significant. It followed in the footsteps of a long and successful career after football

Pelé’s financials

Soccer legend Pelé attends a 2002 news conference
Brazilian soccer legend Pelé attends a 2002 news conference to promote an anti-impotence awareness campaign | KAZUHIRO NOGI/AFP via Getty Images

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Pelé may have made his name at a time when soccer players made a fraction of the record-breaking deals they make today, but it doesn’t mean that he was starving. The rare superstar to have near-universal appeal in any market, he marketed himself in ways that few athletes had done before him. While his $15 million in soccer earnings were a lot for their day, however, he made nearly as much off the field, details Players Bio.

Pelé had several endorsement deals outside of Viagra. From Volkswagen to Subway, he made $14 million in commercial contracts to date. Still, while Viagra comes with certain stigmas that some men are uncomfortable with, Pelé is one of a long line of celebrities who have endorsed the product and reaped the benefits. 

Pelé becomes part of the Viagra team 

Viagra has a long history of celebrity endorsements. Recently, football fans might recognize one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time, Brett Favre, as one of the product’s many faces, according to Weekly World News. The history goes much deeper, however. One of the most successful ad campaigns came not from sports, music, or entertainment, but Capitol Hill. 

Former presidential nominee Bob Dole served as the face of Viagra for several years, reports the BBC. But none of these endorsements rung as loud as Pelé’s. Over 40 years removed from his soccer career, he’s still a household name thanks in large part to his commercial appeal. He may not have needed the product himself, but his name may have helped some men who did.