DRKOOP.COM HUNTS AGENCY TO FORGE STRONG NET BRAND: $10 MIL AD EFFORT TO BOLSTER SITE BACKED BY FORMER SURGEON GENERAL

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C. Everett Koop, the ex-surgeon general known for his vigorous battles against smoking, could find his image part of an advertising campaign later this year.

The health information Web site Dr. Koop co-founded (drkoop.com) is searching for an advertising agency to launch an estimated $10 million national campaign. Its goal is to build a strong brand among the mass of health-oriented Internet sites.

Drkoop.com expects to raise some $50 million in an initial public offering sometime this summer and wants to use part of that money for a major ad push.

DECISION MADE AFTER IPO

The company is targeting national agencies and would like one with experience promoting Web sites, according to Guy MacNeill, VP-marketing, who is leading the review. A decision is not expected until after the IPO.

Mr. MacNeill declined to provide names of agencies involved in the review or to say how many are being considered.

Drkoop.com offers health news and information, chat rooms and links to sites that sell over-the-counter medications and refill prescriptions.

The site is hoping to leverage Dr. Koop's name recognition to position itself as the source for "credible" and "trusted" health information on the Web.

POWERFUL BACKERS

Health-oriented Web sites are many and have attracted some powerful backers.

Last week, Healtheon, co-founded by former Netscape Communications Corp. Chairman James Clark, agreed to merge with health information provider WebMD; Microsoft Corp. is a major investor and will use WebMD content for a new MSN Health service.

Separately, CVS Corp. last week purchased online pharmaceuticals retailer Soma.com and plans to convert it into its own Internet sales presence.

A survey conducted by drkoop.com showed the former surgeon general's name recognition resonates across multiple age groups, including 30% recognition among 18-to-24-year-olds.

"We're creating a brand and obviously we feel with Dr. Koop we have high awareness," Mr. MacNeill said. "Now we have to translate that into drkoop.com as a brand on the Internet."

LEVERAGE THE NAME

In January, the Web site reached a five-year agreement with the doctor to use his image in promotions. Dr. Koop, who is chairman of the board, could receive up to 4% of revenue from new product sales.

Mr. MacNeill said he was not sure whether the 82-year-old Dr. Koop will appear in advertising.

"Drkoop.com does have name recognition going for it," said David Restrepo, a healthcare analyst with Jupiter Communications. "Nonetheless, it has to aggressively move to leverage the Koop name and consumer familiarity with it to try to break away from the competition."

The site derives revenue from advertising and sponsorship deals and so-called finders fees for users it sends to other sites to fill prescriptions or purchase drugs.

The Web site has lost more than $22 million since it launched in July 1998.

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