Beyond beauty

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For years, companies pitching over-the-counter acne medicines have employed creative devices such as the thunderous, tongue-in-cheek Oxy-10 voice or the perky teen talking about an upcoming date.

A new campaign for a prescription counterpart, Retin-A Micro, takes a more serious approach. The campaign's 60-second TV spot, breaking today, uses slow paced, aspirational music and an authoritative voice-over to convey a sense of gravity about acne and the strength of the drug.

"Clearly this condition is of very serious importance to teens," said Stu Klein, exec VP-general manager of WPP Group's CommonHealth direct-to-consumer unit the Quantum Group, Parsippany, N.J., agency for the Johnson & Johnson Ortho Dermatological brand. "As we reviewed advertising in the category, we felt a lot of it treated the condition lightly. In our minds it ends up trivializing the solution."

The agency sought to tap into the negative effect acne can have on a teenager's self-esteem. The ad shows confident teens in social settings. But the message is not only that the teens should look acne-free to impress their friends, but for their own sense of self as well, Mr. Klein said.

"It's important to look good," he said. "But it's as important for them to look good to their friends as it is for them to look good for themselves. We wanted to make sure the self-esteem quotient was there." Spending was not disclosed.

Retin-A Micro competes against prescription brands such as Hoffmann-La Roche's Accutane and Galderma's Differin and a range of OTC products including GlaxoSmithKline's Oxy line, Blistex's Stri-Dex and J&J's own Neutrogena. Retin-A Micro may have gained some acceptance among physicians as Accutane, which treats severe acne, has been linked to birth defects and depression. Congressman Bart Stupak, D-Mich., has blamed Accutane for causing depression leading to his son's suicide and called for Roche to halt direct-to-consumer ads.

Unbranded ads for Accutane and branded ones for Differin have used similar images of frustrated teens with acne facing a mirror; the Retin-A Micro ads avoid the before-and-after tack. Meanwhile, ads for OTC products often take on the feel of a beauty product-something Ortho hopes will distinguish the ads for prescription Retin-A.

"This isn't really cosmetic," said Kathy Jenkins, Quantum's chief creative officer. "This is something that has a deeper impact on a teen's life."

Advertising prescription acne treatments poses a sort of double hurdle for marketers. DTC ads seek to encourage consumers to see a physician for a certain treatment, which involves calling to make an appointment-much more effort than grabbing a product off a store shelf. But ads for acne treatments targeted at teens go a step further, trying to encourage them to ask a parent to make the doctor's appointment.

The Retin-A Micro campaign underscores the increasing emphasis J&J is placing on the pharmaceutical portion of its business, the key to healthy revenue growth, it believes. In the process, it is embracing DTC with ads for chemotherapy side-effect product Procrit and arthritis drug Remi-cade. Last month, the company purchased Alza Corp., whose principal product is bladder-control drug Ditropan XL, which generates significant DTC spending.

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