Wayne Knight, better known as the noisome Newman on "Seinfeld," premieres as "the flu" in ads for the new flu-fighting Relenza inhalant.
Teaser ads broke last week; a full-scale effort will follow later this month.
Much like Mr. Knight's "Seinfeld" character, "the flu always shows up at the worst time," said Scott Carouge, creative director at Saatchi & Saatchi, New York, the agency that conceived and created the advertising.
In the Relenza campaign, Mr. Knight's character travels to households via bus to spread his germs. Supporting print ads feature Mr. Knight's mug imposed on an America's most unwanted poster.
The campaign marks the first work from Saatchi for Glaxo Wellcome. Relenza was given U.S. Food & Drug Administration approval in July, and Saatchi was tapped in September to handle the estimated $30 million account.
Saatchi's Relenza team conceived the idea of having a character portray the flu, and had only one wish-list candidate -- Mr. Knight. In addition to the Newman role, Mr. Knight also plays the blustery cop on "Third Rock From the Sun."
"We really only wanted him," said Saatchi Creative Director Dick Holt. "We didn't want a backup."
The team turned to Saatchi's Director of Talent Negotiation Tina Sperber, who contacted Mr. Knight's agent. The deal was struck quickly, and a few weeks later Mr. Knight met with Messrs. Holt and Carouge for a brainstorming session.
The Relenza spots sound the first salvo in the upcoming flu-drug advertising wars. Relenza and Hoffman-La Roche's Tamiflu are new drugs designed to alleviate flu symptoms, and both are expected to spend millions on competing direct-to-consumer campaigns through the winter.
For now, both drugs aim to mitigate the effects of the flu once a person contracts it. But Glaxo and Roche are conducting research as to whether the drugs can prevent the onset of the illness in the first place.
Both companies are counting on the flu drugs to help reverse recent struggles. Glaxo has suffered as its market-leading Imitrex migraine remedy has lost share, while Roche is banking on Tamiflu and new anti-obesity drug Xenical to give it a