Ambien beats back rivals with fresh sleeping pill push

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Hoping to ward off competitors threatening its market leadership, Sanofi-Synthelabo, marketer of Ambien, is cranking up its message about the sleeping pill's benefits.

A 60-second spot discusses the problems resulting from a night sans sleep, and the positive next-day impact of taking Ambien. That's a shift from the marketer's long-running approach centered on falling asleep faster, staying asleep longer and waking up feeling refreshed.

The new focus came out of talking to consumers, said Keith Vance, associate director-marketing. "A commercial spent talking about not sleeping is not all that interesting." The company found that when people don't sleep, they're concerned about how they'll feel the next day. "They said they're out of sync with the world around them."

The campaign includes three 60-second branded and three 15-second unbranded spots that will run on network and syndicated TV, from Havas' Euro RSCG Worldwide, New York.

expanding presence

This is the last work for Sanofi by the agency, which created the drug's first direct-to-consumer advertising in the U.S. in 1997. Last December, the Paris-headquartered pharmaceutical company consolidated its $236 million creative account (AA, Dec. 15, 2003) for various brands at Publicis Groupe's Publicis Worldwide, following a review that included teams from rival holding companies Interpublic Group of Cos., Grey Global Group and Omnicom Group. Sanofi derives 58.3% of its sales from Europe, and now would like to expand its presence in the U.S.

At the same time, the company faces fresh competition. Estorra, a sleep aid from Sepracor that received conditional approval from the Food and Drug Administration in February, is expected to receive full approval this year. Estorra is being touted as a pill that can be taken for longer periods of time than Ambien and Sonata, a competitor from Wyeth introduced in 1999. Pfizer in late 2002 signed a deal to co-market a sleeping drug called Indiplon, created by San Diego biotechnology company Neurocrine Biosciences. That is expected to gain FDA approval this year.

Currently, Ambien leads the $2 billion sleep deprivation/insomnia market with its 2003 sales of $1.65 billion, according to Sanofi. Sonata had sales of $230 million in 2003, according to King Pharmaceuticals, which co-markets the drug with Wyeth.

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