Pop-culture phenom, Today Sponge is back

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The female contraceptive that inspired an episode of "Seinfeld" and launched the phrase "spongeworthy" into the national lexicon is returning to store shelves after more than a decade.

The Today Sponge, marketed by Allendale Pharmaceuticals, gained re-approval by the Food and Drug Administration April 22 and will be sold again in this country beginning in August.

The company plans an aggressive public relations and buzz marketing blitz through the spring and summer via New York's Widmeyer Communications, before independent shop MDC Group, New York, takes over traditional advertising to both consumers and healthcare professionals. Billings are unknown.

No word yet on whether the word "worthy" will accompany the advertising. Then again, maybe there's no need for it.

"There's no question that `Seinfeld' already helped create an aura around this product," said Allendale CEO Gene Detroyer.

PRODUCT'S DEMISE

During its 11 years on the market, the Today Sponge was the best-selling over-the-counter female contraceptive, with more than 250 million sold. There were never any safety issues with the Today Sponge, but the FDA pulled it from the market in 1994 after finding that the production facility had used contaminated water. American Home Products, which owned the rights before selling them to Allendale in 1998, decided not to upgrade the facility and stopped production of the sponge.

A year later, the scenario was the basis of a "Seinfeld" episode. After finding that the sponge would be discontinued, Julia Louis-Dreyfus' character Elaine goes on a mad hunt throughout New York City to buy up whatever sponges remain in pharmacies. With a limited supply, Elaine has to determine if one of her new boyfriends is "spongeworthy."

"We'll probably take a different approach to contemporize the product," MDC Group CEO Eric Malter said, "but there's a lot of equity in that [phrase] and that will work for us."

In fact, Allendale Pharmaceuticals and MDC Group have already purchased the rights to an Internet site that includes "spongeworthy" in its URL. Mr. Detroyer said the initial marketing for the Today Sponge will start with the todaysponge.com site, which received more than 7,000 hits in the first four hours after the FDA's April 22 announcement and will begin selling the product in June, two months before it is back on shelves.

"We won't do TV advertising because of the expense," he said. "But you'll see us in magazines and you'll see us heavy on the Internet. We've found that more women tend to use new media more for health reasons."

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