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POWER 50; OTC CONVERSIONS DRIVE JUMP IN DRUG SALES, ADS;PHARMACEUTICALS: ANALGESICS,ANTIHISTAMINES ALSO BIG SPENDERS

By Published on .

Now riding the "rocket" for his fourth time, George Quesnelle didn't expect to launch a major drug brand more than once.

The last three have been over-the-counter crossovers, but that more than counts in the business these days. And his latest two are helping create the OTC smoking cessation category, first with Nicorette gum in April and then NicoDerm CQ patch this August. Together, their total ad spending is $70 million, through Jordan, McGrath, Case & Taylor, New York.

Mr. Quesnelle was first behind the prescription launch of Merrell National Laboratories' Seldane antihistamine in the mid-'80s, and after moving to SmithKline Beecham helped acid blocker Tagamet cross OTC in 1995.

"The biggest obstacle with `smoking cessation,'*" says Mr. Quesnelle, "was to take nicotine-seen as harmful-and use it as a therapy. "

Amazingly, it was the first time the Food &*Drug Administration advisory committee approved a new category at its first hearing, he says.

SKB won a marketing coup when it got a "cause marketing" link with the American Cancer Society behind its two smoking cessation products. Both brands will carry a special dual logo that says, "Partners in helping you quit."

Advertising for Nicorette, the first out of the box and the only gum therapy, used testimonials while NicoDerm CQ's approval followed Johnson & Johnson's Nicotrol. NicoDerm's CQ $35 million promotion has focused more on comparitive selling against Nicotrol.

CLEAR DIFFERENTIATION

SKB's patch can be clearly distinguished from J&J's because they offer different programs. NicoDerm CQ has a "step down" program, with three strengths over 10 weeks, compared to a single strength, six-week program from Nicotrol.

As the most prescribed patch, NicoDerm also has the advantage of heritage, with nearly 40% of the flat $268 million prescription patch therapy market before going OTC.

Also leading a current product introduction is Bob Casale and his team behind Warner-Lambert Co.'s Zantac 75 stomach remedy. They created "Z-Day," part of a $125 million marketing blitz behind the OTC version of what had been the world's largest-selling prescription drug.

The multi-city launch in spring 1996 included PR events such as the lighting of office-building windows into the shape of a Z, as well as projecting images onto buildings in New York, Chicago and Los Angeles.

An ad campaign from J. Walter Thompson USA, New York, features actor Brian Dennehy in image-laden locales, like a fiery volcano or a churning sea.

"The brand has a tremendous amount of built-in equity," says Mr. Casale. Though still a bit early for research data, the company claims Zantac 75 captured second place among stomach remedies during the summer.

The battle between those competitors might cause its combatants upset stomachs, but it's nothing like the uncommonly bitter battle this year in analgesics.

ANALGESIC SLUG-OUT

Market leader Tylenol, from McNeil Consumer Products Co., and American Home Products' Advil slugged out their differences by challenging one another's safety in TV and print ads.

Donald Casey, McNeil's VP-consumer marketing, steered a portion of the No. 1 brand's $214 million ad budget to pose the possibility of ibuprofen hurting ulcers, while No. 2 brand Advil spotlighted a winning alcohol-interaction suit against Tylenol.

Their efforts caught widespread media attention and caused worry both among drug marketers and ad industry executives that the result could be sales losses for analgesics or even OTC drugs altogether.

The rivalry caused TV networks to pull the offending drug spots, with ABC vowing not to carry any "comparitive claim" ads at all.

In another hot, controversial area, Steven Andrzejewski, marketing manager for the antihistamine Claritin, continues to plow ahead with even greater media support behind that Schering-Plough Corp.'s prescription product.

Consumer spending for the Rx product totaled $30 million in 1995 via Thomas Ferguson Associates, Parsippany, N.J., but exceeded $37 million in just the first half of 1996, as the brand moved into TV.M

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