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How 'Seinfeld' Keeps One Synova Product Top of Mind

'Sponge' Episode Aired in '95, but Consumers Still Associate Contraceptive Method With Elaine

By Published on .

BATAVIA, Ohio -- Being "sponge-worthy" still means something important to Synova Healthcare President-Chief Operating Officer David J. Harrison, who's continuing to benefit from the equity conferred by a rather memorable, if totally unpaid, brand integration on "Seinfeld" more than a decade after the fact.

Synova has revamped the packaging for its rollout of the Today Sponge with a more modern, somewhat cartoonish look, to capture some of the fun vibe of a 'Seinfeld' episode from 1995.

Synova earlier this year purchased Allendale Pharmaceutical, prior owner of the Today Sponge, a novel spermicide-infused contraceptive sponge immortalized by an episode of NBC's comedy "Seinfeld" in a show that first aired Dec. 7, 1995.

Elaine's big decision
In it, Julia Louis-Dreyfus' character Elaine Benes is a loyal user distressed by the discontinuation of the product in 1993 (by then-owner Wyeth Pharmaceuticals). She has hoarded cases of the sponges, but she rations them, and her relations with men, based on whether she deems them "sponge-worthy."

Synova, which began relaunching the Today Sponge last month with a magazine campaign in Cosmopolitan and In Style, finds every time it holds a focus group with consumers, and every time its executives talk to reporters, the "Seinfeld" episode comes up.

Usually, it ends up in the lead paragraph of the story or broadcast report, as it has here. The residual impact of that "Seinfeld" episode, which was never paid for since the product was discontinued, has gotten Today publicity in several newspapers and on National Public Radio since its launch.

Thanks to almost endless syndicated reruns of "Seinfeld" and sales of boxed DVD sets, the episode ("The Sponge, No. 709," from season seven) "is running almost every day it seems like" somewhere in the U.S., Mr. Harrison said. Indeed, according to Backchannel Media's DRTVResearch.com, it's next set to run July 2 on some TV stations.

Episode recounted in detail
Women as young as 23, who would have been 11 when the episode first ran, recount the "Seinfeld" episode in detail in focus groups, said Joann Armitage, exec VP-sales and marketing of Synova.
Elaine at a pharmacy gets her horde of Sponges in a classic 'Seinfeld' episode, which women recall in detail in focus groups.
Elaine at a pharmacy gets her horde of Sponges in a classic 'Seinfeld' episode, which women recall in detail in focus groups.

Synova has not, however, incorporated "Seinfeld" directly into its marketing. "We weren't sure we wanted to pay royalties to [the show's executive producer] Larry David," Mr. Harrison said, which he believes making mention of the show on the product's packaging or advertising might engender. Fortunately, he said, media outlets have picked up on the connection readily without Synova having to make it overtly.

Synova has revamped the packaging with a more modern, somewhat cartoonish look, to capture some of the fun vibe of the "Seinfeld" episode.

"When this product left the market, it really did leave a very big void," Mr. Harrison said. He said that void was reflected in the show and that many of the brand's potential clients, like the fictional Ms. Benes, are looking for a contraceptive method for occasional use.

Today had sales of $25 million annually when it was discontinued in 1993; Wyeth decided to halt production rather than make the large capital investments for manufacturing safeguard improvements required at the time by the Food and Drug Administration. Wyeth subsequently sold the brand to Allendale, which, despite plans to relaunch the brand, also never raised the necessary capital to do so prior to selling it to Synova earlier this year.
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