Pfizer shuffles roster, refocuses ad strategy

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Pfizer's advertising philosophy and roster of agencies took a decided shift last week when the pharmaceutical company awarded three key prescription-drug accounts and put a fourth into review.

For the $74 million allergy drug Zyrtec and the $51 million anti-depressant Zoloft accounts, Pfizer added roster shops by tapping WPP Group's Berlin Cameron/Red Cell and Publicis Groupe's Kaplan Thaler Group, respectively, a pair of boutique agencies with big creative reputations but little direct-to-consumer involvement. Pfizer went with experience in awarding the anti-arthritis drug Bextra to Interpublic Group of Cos.' McCann-Erickson Worldwide, New York, already a roster shop.

shootout

In addition, by removing WPP's J. Walter Thompson from the $81 million Celebrex account, Pfizer set up a shootout between Kaplan Thaler and Havas' Arnold Worldwide, New York, another agency with hefty creative credentials.

"There was never any question these reviews were about the creative," said an executive at one of the finalists that lost out in the reviews for Bextra, Zyrtec and Zoloft. "Pfizer made that very clear from the beginning. They were looking for another Deutsch."

The finalists were Arnold; Omnicom Group's TBWA/Chiat/ Day; MNH, the health-care unit of Interpublic's Merkley Newman Harty; and Publicis Groupe's Publicis, all New York.

Interpublic's Deutsch had the Bextra, Zyrtec and Zoloft accounts and, by all accounts, did strong creative work for Pfizer. But a disagreement in February over compensation agreements led to a parting of the ways between the agency and the marketer.

McCann and Kaplan Thaler declined to comment. Berlin Cameron/Red Cell could not be reached for comment.

Philosophically, it appears that Pfizer is looking to create campaigns that focus less on branding and more on compliance, the term the pharmaceutical industry uses for patients who are prescribed a particular drug but have trouble staying on the medication consistently.

While declining to comment on specific plans, Dorothy Wetzel, Pfizer VP-consumer marketing group, U.S. pharmaceuticals hinted at it when she said, "We're looking forward to all our new partners, as well as current partners, to break through those societal and attitudinal barriers."

Said an agency executive close to the review: "They realize their more mature brands need a new advertising focus."

That may be true for Celebrex, Zyrtec and Zoloft, but Bextra will be a full-blown branding campaign. The drug had less than $1 million in spending last year, but executives close to the review said Pfizer plans a $50 million to $60 million U.S. launch for Bextra. Labeled as the successor to Celebrex, executives said Pfizer actually considers Bextra to be more of a sibling drug and will market both at the same time. The patent expiration on Celebrex is not until 2014. Ms. Wetzel declined to comment on spending levels or Pfizer's plans for Bextra.

strategy disagreements

As for Celebrex, executives close to the situation said the account, at JWT for the past two years, had problems because of disagreements on strategy and approach. The account was thought to be in review as early as March of this year, prompting an internal memo from JWT North American President Bob Jeffrey to staffers saying the trade-publication reports were wrong and that the agency and Pfizer enjoyed a good relationship. Pfizer handed a piece of work to Publicis, New York, in mid-July. JWT declined to comment.

contributing: lisa sanders

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