OTC Claritin given $40 million backing

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Schering-Plough plans a major marketing push, estimated at $40 million, in early January to drive sales of its over-the-counter version of blockbuster allergy drug Claritin.

The marketer hopes Claritin's strong brand recognition, established through ad campaigns with spokeswoman Joan Lunden and a tie-in with Major League Baseball, will contribute to consumer awareness for the OTC product. The launch campaign will have a different feel from past efforts, said an executive familiar with the plans.

Meanwhile, as Schering-Plough fights for market share in the so-called front of the store, the company will essentially compete against itself by continuing to aggressively plug prescription product Clarinex against competitors Aventis' Allegra and Pfizer's Zyrtec.

Clarinex, which was launched in early 2002, is the successor drug to Claritin and was supported by $105 million from January through August, according to Taylor Nelson Sofres' CMR. The Clarinex 2003 marketing push will likely follow the OTC Claritin push by a number of weeks. Spending on Claritin this year reached a near standstill as the focus turned to Clarinex. Claritin spent $86.7 million in measured media in 2001.

Both efforts will be run by agencies within the WPP Group. Ogilvy & Mather Worldwide, New York, won the OTC business earlier this year. Clarinex is handled by CommonHealth's The Quantum Group, Parsippany, N.J.-the long-time agency for prescription Claritin.

A Schering-Plough spokesman declined to comment on marketing plans.

The marketing of the two drugs is delicate because Schering-Plough wants to push Clarinex as a prescription-strength solution, while crafting a potency message for Claritin. Still to be seen is whether consumers will pay more for Clarinex-especially with an OTC Claritin available. Of course, people with insurance that covers prescriptions may seek out Clarinex.

The OTC version will come in four forms, according to a retail executive: Claritin 24-hour tabs; Claritin Reditabs (a melt-in-your-mouth version); Claritin plus decongestant; and Claritin children's syrup.

Last year, the Claritin family generated $2.7 billion in U.S. sales, according to Schering-Plough figures.

This year, Claritin products generated $1.5 billion and Clarinex $340 million-for a combined $1.84 billion, compared to $2.1 billion for Claritin during the same period last year.

Still, according to figures from NDCHealth, even though advertising was focused on Clarinex, Claritin continued to lead Allegra and Zyrtec handily in U.S. sales the first nine months of this year. Clarinex trailed all three considerably.

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