Bristol-Myers Squibb Co.

Published on .

Reprints Reprints

Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. traces its origins to 1887, when William McLaren Bristol Sr. and John R. Myers invested $5,000 in a failing drug manufacturer, Clinton Pharmaceutical Co. After Mr. Myers' death in 1899, Mr. Bristol in 1900 incorporated the company as Bristol-Myers Co. In 1929, Bristol-Myers was absorbed by Drug Inc., which dissolved during the Great Depression. In 1933, an independent Bristol-Myers went public.

In the early 1900s, sales of Bristol-Myers' Sal Hepatica mineral salt laxative and its Ipana toothpaste, the first to contain a disinfectant, grew rapidly. During the Depression and the years that followed, the marketer's ad focus remained on those two best-sellers; the company's slogan was "Ipana for the smile of beauty, Sal Hepatica for the smile of health." By 1939, Bristol-Myers was spending $1.4 million in network radio and was the 19th-largest network advertiser.

In 1943, the company returned to making drugs but also diversified its business, buying companies such as Clairol (in 1959), Drackett, (1965) and Mead Johnson (1967).

Midcentury: Conflict with the FTC

In 1949, in the first of many scraps with the Federal Trade Commission, Bristol-Myers was ordered to cease using its "Pink toothbrush" theme, which depicted the American diet as harmful to gum health, in advertising for Ipana. Ruling that the claims were false and not backed by dentists, the FTC placed responsibility on Bristol-Myers, not Pedlar & Ryan and Doherty, Clifford & Shenfield, Ipana's advertising agencies on the campaign. The "Smile of beauty" theme was not affected by the ruling.

In 1950, Bristol-Myers increased its ad spending for Resistab, an antihistamine touted as a cold preventative. Kenyon & Eckhardt handled account. The FTC again lashed out at Bristol-Myers, claiming it had no proof that its antihistamine prevented or cured colds.

In 1952, Ipana was reformulated to include chlorophyll, and ad copy read, "Now! In one great new toothpaste—science's great decay fighter plus nature's great deodorant!" Ipana also used radio spots to promote the toothpaste. In 1954, it changed its approach, adopting the celebrity testimonial format. The first such ads ran in the March 22, 1954, edition of Life and featured Garry Moore, on whose CBS TV show Bristol-Myers also advertised Ipana. Doherty Clifford handled the Ipana effort.

In 1954, Bristol-Myers introduced Ban, a lotion deodorant and antiperspirant in a roll-on applicator. The advertising, handled by Batten, Barton, Durstine & Osborn, hailed Ban as "a completely new kind of deodorant" and prominently featured the fact that "it rolls on." This very successful campaign led Ban to the No. 3 spot in deodorant sales in only eight months.

Bristol-Myers' other deodorant, Mum, handled by Doherty Clifford, generated quite a stir in 1956 with a color poster that received more fan mail than any other ad in the product's history. The copy read simply, "For security reasons . . . new Mum. The doctor's discovery that now safely stops odor 24 hours a day." "Mum's the word" became the ongoing slogan.

Ad spending in 1956 rose to $21 million behind a product line that included Bufferin, Ipana, Ban, Mum, Mum Mist, Sal Hepatica and Vitalis.

In 1957, Robert F. Wilson Inc. resigned Bristol-Myers' prescription drug products, which were reassigned to Paul Klemtner & Co. Other agencies handling Bristol-Myers' prescription drug business were Noyes & Sproul and Doherty Clifford.

"In the mature male . . ."

By 1959, Ogilvy, Benson & Mather was named agency of record for Ban. Because no network wished to show real people applying deodorant, Ogilvy decided to represent the a of the human anatomy with a montage of nude statues accompanied by voice-over with a British accent: "In the mature male and the mature female . . . ."

In 1960, Ogilvy's campaign for Ban assured consumers that the deodorant would "take the worry out of being close," implying a sexual experience protected by the product. Also that year, Bristol-Myers was cited for alleged misleading advertising for Bufferin, and Sudler & Hennessey, a specialist in medical advertising, was named to handle all advertising for Bristol Laboratories products.

Bristol-Myers again altered Ipana in 1961, adding sodium fluoride in response to Colgate-Palmolive's Crest formulation; it also introduced a new headache remedy, Excedrin, touted as an "extra-strength pain reliever," via Young & Rubicam. Children's Bufferin was introduced in late 1962, again via Y&R, in network and spot TV and magazines. In March, Bristol-Myers moved its $1 million Mum and Mum Mist accounts from Doherty Clifford to Grey Advertising. Five years later, Windex debuted, handled by Grey.

In 1972, the FTC issued a cease-and-desist order with regard to "false and deceptive advertising" of Bufferin. Claims or implications for the remedy in ads—that nervousness, tension, anxiety or depression could be abated with the use of Bufferin and that the product would enable a person to cope with the ordinary stresses of life—were ruled deceptive, and in 1979, an FTC administrative law judge ordered Bufferin's advertising pulled. Ted Bates & Co. and Y&R were cited for promoting the products even though they were alleged to have known that the claims were dubious.

In 1983, the FTC, in a ruling that rejected the advertising claims of Bufferin, again cited Bates and Y&R, requiring ads that claimed "proven safety" to be supported by clinical testing. This particular chapter finally ended in 1985, when the Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal from Bristol-Myers against the 1983 FTC order.

In 1984, Bristol-Myers introduced Nuprin, a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug, with a giant advertising budget. But sales were disappointing, in part because American Home Products beat Bristol-Myers to the market by six weeks with Advil and also because, due to licensing agreements, Bristol-Myers was unable to make some claims in its advertising that AHP could. Bristol-Myers' estimated $25 million campaign brought sales of only around $35 million for Nuprin in 1985.

New challenges

In 1989, Bristol-Myers merged with Squibb Corp. to create Bristol-Myers Squibb Co., one of the world's largest pharmaceutical companies.

E.R. Squibb & Sons had been founded as a pharmaceutical company in Brooklyn in 1856 by Edward Robinson Squibb. In 1895, he passed management of the company to his sons, Charles and Edward, and in 1905, they sold the company to Lowell M. Palmer and Theodore Weicker, who moved the headquarters to New Brunswick, N.J. Squibb was a manufacturer of vitamin products and pharmaceutical items such as penicillin, while its consumer advertising focused on toothpaste and tooth powder.

In 1921, the company coined its slogan, "The priceless ingredient in every product is the honor and integrity of its maker," and advertising later added the line, "A name you can trust." Its principal agency from the 1930s on was Geyer, Cornell & Newell, which became Newell-Emmett Co. and, in 1949, Cunningham & Walsh. Squibb was acquired by Olin Mathieson Chemical Corp. in the 1950s.

By the late 1990s, new, more liberal guidelines from the Food & Drug Administration for direct-to-consumer TV advertising of prescription drugs allowed marketers to make claims for specific brands along with abbreviated references to side effects if they pointed consumers to more extensive information about the drugs in magazine ads, on the Internet or via 800 telephone numbers.

Bristol-Myers used this loosening of restrictions in 1997 to advantage, spending $126 million to advertise its cholesterol-lowering drug Pravachol in 1997 and 1998. (Bristol-Myers later discontinued its consumer advertising of Pravachol.)

In February 2000, Bristol-Myers Squibb, in partnership with Gillette Co., selected DDB Corbett as agency of record for the global launch of Vaniqa cream, a topical treatment for unwanted facial hair. DDB Corbett, a new agency, was chosen to handle all professional communications, direct-to-consumer advertising and Web site development.

In 2001, Bristol-Myers Squibb became a more focused pharmaceutical company by divesting two businesses: Zimmer orthopedic products and Clairol.

By 2004, its two biggest prescription medication products were the blood-thinning medication Plavix, backed by $70 million and handled by Publicis Groupe's Saatchi & Saatchi, and Pravachol. Pravachol remained BMS' biggest-selling drug, but it ran into problems in 2003 when it received a tersely worded letter from then-FDA Commissioner Mark B. McClellan.

The FDA ordered Bristol-Myers Squibb to pull a print advertising campaign for what the agency called false claims. It was only the second time the FDA had asked a company to correct information following a misleading DTC ad. Havas' Euro RSCG Worldwide, New York, handled.

Bristol-Myers Squibb Co., headquartered in New York, had worldwide sales in 2003 of $19.54 billion and was the sixth-largest pharmaceutical maker in the world. It ranked No. 42 among U.S. advertisers in 2003, with spending of $778.1 million, up 38.1% from 2002, according to Advertising Age. Its Web site is

In this article:
Most Popular