PHARMAVITE PLANTS $10 MIL IN LATEST SUPPLEMENT TREND: SAM-E PRODUCT IS TOUTED AS ANTI-DEPRESSANT

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After benefiting from a blitz of free publicity, Pharmavite Corp. is set to launch an estimated $10 million ad campaign for the newest buzz-creating dietary supplement: SAM-e.

Like St. John's wort a year ago, the product is said to enhance emotional well-being. So six months and hundreds of media headlines after SAM-e's U.S. introduction, Pharmavite is moving to reinforce the hoopla and make its Nature Made brand top-of-mind when consumers seek the supplement.

"We wanted people to understand the benefits, start hearing about it, get some word of mouth going and then come out as the first branded SAM-e," said Jennifer Orr, Nature Made product manager.

The national TV and print effort breaks Sept. 1 from Williams-Labadie, Chicago, an agency partly owned by Leo Burnett Co., whose Leo Burnett USA handles the rest of the Nature Made business.

IMPORTANCE OF PUBLICITY

Hype and marketing initiatives are increasingly important factors in the success of dietary supplements.

"Frequently it's a serendipitous question of the right PR, the right advertising and the right timing," said Michael Janson, president of the American College for the Advancement in Medicine and a longtime proponent of alternative treatments.

Nature Made's SAM-e campaign targets females 35-plus. Pharmavite's figures show women buy more than 85% of dietary supplements, so its TV spot, shot in Hawaii, features a middle-aged mother on a beach watching her children frolic in the surf.

"Can a sunset make you happy? A child's laugh? A warm breeze?" voice-over asks. "No. Not without emotional well-being inside."

The TV spot makes reference to SAM-e's popularity overseas, where it has been available as a prescription antidepressant since the 1970s. It is marketed outside the U.S. as a prescription product by BASF Corp., which licensed it to Pharmavite for the U.S. mass market and to General Nutrition Centers for health stores.

Nature Made SAM-e was launched in February. Pharmavite expects to post $60 million in SAM-e sales this year, said Marshall Fong, manager of new products.

NOW NO. 4 BRAND

According to the marketer, July figures from Information Resources Inc. show Nature Made SAM-e as the No. 4 dietary supplement in sales behind American Home Products Corp.'s Centrum and Centrum Silver and Rexall Sundown's Cellasene brand.

Other companies -- including American Home and Natrol -- have similar products, but none has gained the national distribution of the Nature Made version.

Although the initial push focuses on SAM-e's supposed ability to lift spirits, Mr. Fong said Pharmavite may later tout the supplement's supposed effectiveness

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