Aiming to stay No. 1

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After four years on the market, Lipitor has become the leading cholesterol-lowering drug on the U.S. market, selling 59 million prescriptions in the past 12 months, more than twice its nearest competitor, Zocor, according to NDC Health. Despite that success, Pfizer, the New York company that manufactures and markets Lipitor, is far from complacent.

A recently launched, multifaceted advertising campaign created by Omnicom Group's Merkley Newman Harty & Partners, New York, with help from staff of the agency's Healthworks, I2i Communications and MNH Interactive subsidiaries, aims to keep the pharmaceutical maker at the top of the increasingly competitive statin category. Using TV and print commercials, direct response initiatives, and interactive educational materials, Pfizer hopes to gain new customers and keep those already won. "It's a classic marketing strategy," said Bob Ehrlich, CEO, Rx Insight, a Randolph, N.J., consulting firm specializing in direct-to-consumer pharmaceutical advertising. "It's the right thing to do now, too."

Two 60-second "branded" TV spots, "Diva" and "Pool," break this week and continue a theme begun in October when two unbranded ads, "Shark" and "Roulette," introduced viewers to some frightening statistics. One in five people have cholesterol levels over 240-high enough to put them at risk for coronary heart disease and heart attack. "Like your odds?" the narrator asks viewers, thus encouraging them to surf to, a Web site created by Merkley Newman for Pfizer that does not mention Lipitor, but is filled with information about the causes of and risks created by high cholesterol levels.

Like the predecessor ads, which aired from October to early December, "Diva" and "Pool" rely on the grim incidence rates of high-cholesterol in the U.S. to connect with viewers. But these ads, which name Lipitor as the drug of choice to treat the condition, also emphasize high cholesterol is a condition that can affect people of all classes and lifestyles-including upper-class types like celebrities or fitness fanatics who eat low-fat foods and exercise regularly. The main characters of both ads are older, because a greater percentage of the population with high cholesterol is over 50 years of age. "The first set of commercials increased awareness of the condition," said Rima Marschke, account director, Merkley Newman. The new spots "make viewers aware of Lipitor," she said.

The ads are scheduled to appear on national TV, but neither Pfizer, Merkley Newman or Carat USA, which handles media buying and planning for the Lipitor campaign, responded to requests for more details on the strategy. "It's a fierce market," said Mr. Ehrlich, the consultant, who worked in consumer marketing at Warner-Lambert Co., the creator of Lipitor (see Marketer of the Year, P. 51). Pfizer acquired the drug via its acquisition of Warner-Lambert, and competes against rivals Merck, which makes Zocor, and Bristol-Myers Squibb, maker of Pravachol.

Crestor, from AstraZeneca, is expected to hit the market once it receives Food & Drug Administration approval. The scramble for market share heightened after guidelines issued by the National Institutes of Health to treat high-cholesterol revised down the cholesterol number that indicates a person is at risk. That potentially increased the number of Americans taking cholesterol-lowering medication from 12.5 million to 36 million. The result, said Mr. Ehrlich, is "a booming opportunity."

One small sign of the campaign's efficacy, notes Merkley Newman's Ms. Marschke, is that "everyone on our Lipitor account team has had their cholesterol levels checked."

Contributing: David Goetzl

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