Levitra battles to regain share

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Determined to restore waning share for erectile- dysfunction drug Levitra, GlaxoSmithKline and Schering-Plough are quietly contacting agencies about the estimated $120 million account.

The two companies recently became co-marketing partners on the blockbuster drug after Schering-Plough last month acquired the rights to market all of German-based Bayer AG's products in the U.S. Bayer and GSK were co-marketers of Levitra since the Viagra-fighter was introduced in August 2003.

Levitra initially made a big splash when it came on the market. But in January of this year, Cialis, (co-marketed by Eli Lilly & Co. and Icos) adopted an advertising claim that it lasted up to 36 hours, halting any momentum Levitra and Pfizer's market leader may have had.

According to the latest figures from pharmaceutical industry data expert IMS Health, Plymouth Meeting, Pa., Viagra still controls 74.5% of the ED market place, followed by Cialis at 13.9% and Levitra at 11.6%. Cialis has increased its share of total prescriptions every month since its introduction in the U.S.

A spokesman for GlaxoSmith- Kline said, "In terms of agency activity, we have no comment." Schering-Plough declined to comment.

GSK and Bayer spent $46 million on Levitra in the final five months of 2003 according to TNS Media Intelligence/CMR, and have supported the brand with $88 million in measured media through the first six months of this year.

schering at the wheel?

Executives familiar with the situation said at least two shops have been contacted within Omnicom Group and WPP Group. Separately, Andy Berlin, CEO of WPP's Berlin Cameron/Red Cell, said the agency has received a request for proposals from GlaxoSmithKline looking for an agency to handle Levitra in Europe.

The Quantum Group, Parsippany, N.J., part of WPP's CommonHealth unit, has had the U.S. creative account for more than two years and helped bring the drug to market last year. Agency President Stu Klein referred calls to the client.

Initially, Levitra was solely a Bayer drug and the original creative agency was Havas' Euro RSCG Becker Life, New York. When GSK signed on as marketing partner, it had Becker go up against Quantum Group in a showdown won by Quantum. Now Schering-Plough is coming in and apparently doing the same thing to Quantum that GSK did to Becker.

"This seems to be being driven by Schering-Plough," said an agency executive.

some criticism

The Quantum Group generally drew praise for its work on the account, particularly from Denise Strauss, Bayer's director-marketing men's health. As recently as June, when Ms. Strauss was interviewed as one of Advertising Age's Women to Watch, she credited the agency for helping launch a two-fold campaign within a week of Levitra's approval by the Food and Drug Administration last August.

Quantum launched the main branding campaign for Levitra, and also the secondary "Tackling Men's Health" campaign as part of Levitra's sponsorship of the National Football League.

But earlier this year, Quantum drew some criticism with its latest ads. The sexy, sultry spots show a 40ish woman clad only in a man's dress shirt, talking about how "my man" takes Levitra. The smile on his face is proof that it works.

contributing: lisa sanders

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