FDA GIVES OK FOR CLARITIN TO USE CELEBRITY ENDORSER: DTC DRUG ADS STARRING LUNDEN ARE LATEST STEP INTO MAINSTREAM

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The Food & Drug Adminstration has cleared the first celebrity endorsement for a prescription drug TV ad, the use of former "Good Morning America" host Joan Lunden for Schering-Plough Corp.'s Claritin.

With the action, direct-to-consumer prescription drug advertising takes another step toward the mainstream.

Ms. Lunden begins appearing later this month in new advertising to be mixed into the ongoing $70 million Claritin campaign handled by WPP Group's CommonHealth USA, Parsippany, N.J.

RELUCTANT TO USE CELEBS

Though a 1997 print ad for Glaxo Wellcome's Flovent asthma inhaler featured Olympic track medalist Jackie Joyner-Kersee, DTC advertisers have been reluctant to use endorsements.

In the mid-80s, the FDA stopped Ciba-Geigy Corp. from using Mickey Mantle in a promotional effort for Voltaren arthritis drug. An FDA spokesman said the agency had no specific prohibition against celebrities but objected to Mr. Mantle's role because it wasn't clear to consumers he was a paid endorser.

Still, "the industry has been reticent to push the envelope" since then, said John Kamp, senior VP, American Association of Advertising Agencies. Going forward, he added, "DTC advertising is going to look more and more like consumer advertising."

`BLUE SKIES' THEME

One new spot with Ms. Lunden features her on the set of a fictional TV program, discussing the dissolving RediTabs form of the product and noting it's safe for children, too. The campaign's surreal imagery of the past-clocks and hot-air balloons-is gone, though the "Blue Skies" theme music remains.

Ms. Lunden will make public appearances as part of her two-year contract.

"She's the perfect candidate to communicate that you don't need to suffer from allergies in silence," said a Schering spokesman. "Ms. Lunden is widely known and respected by mothers and caregivers."

Ms. Lunden, who left "Good Morning America" last September, told Advertising Age she developed allergies and asthma after moving from California to New York more than 10 years ago. It was a condition she mentioned on her program, and Schering executives noted that.

A SELECTIVE ENDORSER

While she has hawked for brands including Hasbro toys, Vaseline Intensive Care and Beech-Nut baby food, Ms. Lunden said she has been "very selective over the years" about endorsements.

"Tylenol approached me once years ago, but they had a problem and I felt like it might compromise my reporting if I did it," she said.

Ms. Lunden begins a new syndicated morning talk show from Warner Bros. Television in the fall of 1999.

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