DTC Marketing: Viagra rival sets $100 mil ad showdown

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co-marketers glaxosmithkline and Bayer have allowed WPP Group's CommonHealth to mount an 11th-hour bid for a Viagra challenger that could spend heavily to compete with Viagra's estimated $100 million ad barrage.

CommonHealth's direct-to-consumer unit, Quantum Group, is locked in a tussle with Havas' Robert A. Becker Euro RSCG for the direct-to-consumer account, people familiar with the matter said. Becker has had the business since late 2000. The agencies have made presentations to the clients and a decision is expected as early as this week.

The size of the account is unclear, but an aggressive DTC push is expected soon after launch to counter Viagra's head start. Pfizer spent more than $100 million behind Viagra last year, according to Taylor Nelson Sofres' CMR.

Meanwhile, the FDA recently rejected the expected brand name for the drug, Nuviva, people familiar with the matter said. The FDA appears to have felt the moniker-which could be interpreted as meaning "new life"-was too evocative; drugs are not supposed to carry a name that offers any notion about what the drug treats or its effectiveness, according to FDA rules. The drug could be cleared for marketing by the FDA as soon as this summer and is known by its generic name vardenafil.

An FDA spokeswoman declined to comment. Representatives for GSK and Bayer declined to comment on name issues.

Quantum appears to have benefited from its relationship with GSK, where it handles GSK's diabetes drug Avandia and its antibiotic Augmentin. Bayer developed the erectile dysfunction drug and brought GSK on as a worldwide co-marketer last year. A GSK spokesman declined to comment on agency relationships.

Vardenafil is expected to challenge blockbuster Viagra, but how potent the challenge will be remains a matter of some debate, making consumer marketing critical. The new drug could be more effective and work faster than Viagra. It is also expected to provide another beneficial option for patients who find Viagra ineffective or hard to tolerate. "For those that are treated there is a lot of dissatisfaction," said the GSK spokesman. A Pfizer spokesman countered: "Viagra has consistently demonstrated excellent efficacy and safety and is the most widely known pharmaceutical brand in the world."

Viagra has multiple advantages: It's been on the market for four years and may be the most shrewdly marketed drug ever. Through extensive DTC advertising-often driven by celebrities such as Nascar's Mark Martin and baseball slugger Rafael Palmeiro-Viagra has become a household name.

Bayer/GSK and Pfizer both recently got an unexpected boon when the FDA delayed the launch of another new entrant in the erectile dysfunction category, Eli Lilly and ICOS's Cialis. Cialis' long-acting formulation is seen as potentially a bigger threat than vardenafil to Viagra.

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