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A year after diet drug Redux was pulled from the market for safety reasons, Knoll Pharmaceutical Co. is introducing a new choice for overweight people.

In re-entering the territory abandoned by American Home Products Corp. last September, Knoll launched an estimated $50 million direct-to-consumer ad effort for its prescription drug Meridia, aimed at women.

The diet drug category eventually is expected to be a blockbuster. Roche Laboratories' Xenical will likely join the market next year.

AHP never advertised Redux to consumers, but it enjoyed strong demand as clinics popped up to take advantage of the product's popularity. Sales hit $134 million in 1996, but fell to $121 million the following year, according to IMS America. It was pulled voluntarily but at the request of the Food & Drug Administration because of dangerous drug interactions.


"Our No. 1 priority was educating the health community first, and a lot of our education efforts [earlier] were to answer the question `Is Meridia safe,' " said a Knoll spokeswoman. "Now, nine months later, it is appropriate to introduce DTC" advertising.

Meridia works differently than Redux, acting in the brain to fool users that they're full while eating less.

This is Knoll's first major DTC effort and ads focus on managing consumer expectations, often a concern about new prescription drugs. A commercial that bowed last week on network TV shows images of overweight women being active, juxtaposed with half-eaten plates of food. The tagline: "You do your part. We'll do ours."


Print ads to break in January women's magazines compare full and half-eaten plates of food, reading: "Love it. And leave it."

"We were very careful to have a compassionate, warm, woman-to-woman tonality in the spot," said Ellen Perleff, senior VP-group creative director at Foote, Cone & Belding, New York, which created the work. "You almost never see overweight women on TV, but we went over the [FDA] standard body mass because we liked some of the women so much."

The ads specify the drug is for people overweight by "30 pounds or more," and state that the product is a "controlled substance, so some patients may experience dependence."

Both statements are language compromises reached with the FDA after it insisted the areas be addressed, following reports of improper prescriptions by physicians for people who want to just lose a few pounds.


Though the Meridia account already had been awarded to Health Medical Consumer Advertising & Marketing, New York, FCB grabbed the business in July after a second review. HMC sister agency Corbett HealthConnect, Chicago, continues to handle professional advertising for the brand.

Though Knoll first considered a health-related approach, it opted for ads with a positive message.

"We didn't think a strategy focused on explicit health risks would work well, and this is clearly not a cosmetic campaign," said Ms. Perleff. "Everything we went in with was very emotional, since this is an emotional trigger with women. It's showing happy, vibrant women and offers hope."

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