PFIZER NOW TAKES VIAGRA HOOPLA TO OTHER COUNTRIES

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several weeks after the launch of Viagra, radio shock jock Don Imus asked ABC News commentator Cokie Roberts: "What do you think of that Viagra story?"

Ms. Roberts, accustomed to opining about public policy, not popular pills, responded with a laugh.

The exchange, which occurred on Mr. Imus' syndicated radio show, is an example of just how rapidly Pfizer's anti-impotence drug infiltrated the cultural mainstream upon its introduction last year.

'A PRODUCT THAT SOLD ITSELF'

"Viagra was a product that very much sold itself," said Mariola Haggar, an analyst with Deutsche Bank Securities. "There was so much awareness about this drug and there was so much publicity a couple of years before the launch that when the drug was in pharmacies, it sold itself."

In 1998, Viagra became the most successful prescription-drug launch in history, with some $788 million in sales during its first nine months, according to Pfizer.

In its wake, Viagra sent sales of existing sexual dysfunction drugs into a tailspin, including Vivus' Muse and Pharmacia & Upjohn's Caverject, whose revenues plunged 53% and 29%, respectively, according to consultancy IMS Health.

Though Pfizer spent $21.4 million last year, mostly in magazine advertising, according to Competitive Media Reporting, much of what drove the drug's success was a phenomenal buzz and publicity frenzy created by the first-ever anti-impotence pill.

LESS PUBLICITY MEANS DOWNTURN

Now, after reports of several deaths, much of the hoopla surrounding Viagra has begun to fade and sales have slowed.

Earlier this month, the company said sales of the drug fell to $193 million for the first quarter of 1999 vs. $236 million the previous quarter. Viagra bowed during the second quarter of 1998.

But few seem worried. Analysts attribute the slowdown to a variety of factors ranging from inevitability -- the fact that no drug was going to sustain Viagra's initial sales boom -- to a possible drop in repeat users to a backlog in product supply in Europe, where it was only recently approved.

"The initial flurry of sales reflected a lot of people who were not impotent who were buying it," said Herman Saftlas, an analyst with S&P Equity Group. "I think that's over. The euphoria of the whole thing has gone away but the basic impotence market remains strong."

Mr. Saftlas added that it most likely will only get larger with the large crop of aging baby boomers who may begin to experience symptoms of sexual dysfunction.

CANADA AND JAPAN LATEST MARKETS

Analysts also believe Viagra will greatly benefit once it establishes a strong foothold overseas; the drug has been approved in 77 countries and launched in 62 through March. Recent launches in Japan and Canada should bring a surge in profits, they say, especially as those countries go through the initial curiosity factor with the drug, such as what swept the U.S. last spring.

Pfizer CEO William Steere has told company shareholders Viagra's sales could reach $1 billion for 1999. Wall Street analysts estimate the drug will boost revenues 15% to 20% a year over the next three to five years.

Protected by a patent through 2011, Viagra is expected to continue its market dominance at least until a new class of stronger, more efficacious drugs goes on sale.

"It will be the market leader until some of the next generation of drugs comes to market in 2000 to 2003 with greater potency [and quicker] onset of action," Ms. Haggar said.

An additional Viagra challenger called Vasomax, from Schering-Plough, is scheduled to hit the market this year; it has a faster onset of action but has been shown to be less effective than Viagra, Ms. Haggar said.

Other challengers also are upcoming, including Uprima, which TAP Pharamcaeuticals expects to submit to the U.S. Food & Drug Administration for approval sometime this year.

PRO-ACTIVE PFIZER

But Pfizer isn't waiting for competitors to hit the market to rev up its marketing.

To build on the drug's household-name status, the marketer launched its first TV commercials with an unbranded spot featuring former U.S. Sen. Bob Dole, and followed that up with branded spots showing couples dancing. Cline, Davis & Mann, New York, created the ads.

By using a flurry of publicity to launch the product and holding off on a major ad push until some of the luster had faded, Viagra represents an "example of the marketing program of the future," according to Al Ries, chairman of consultancy Ries & Ries.

"Publicity created the credentials for the brand before the advertising ran, so when you saw the ad you were already convinced that if you took one of the pills, you'd see a bodily reaction," Mr. Ries said.

NEGATIVE PUBLICITY

Of course, that was a downside for Pfizer, too. It has had to deal with negative publicity stemming from the more than 130 people who have died while taking Viagra.

Though the FDA has established no direct link between the drug and the deaths, the agency worked with Pfizer to revise the product's labeling to heighten

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