Saatchi loses Benecol in strategy shift by McNeil

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McNeil Consumer Products has shifted consumer advertising for its Benecol brand from Saatchi & Saatchi Healthcare, New York, to medical agency NCI Advertising, New York, a division of Nelson Communications.

The shift comes after news in November that the Johnson & Johnson unit would pull its full-scale consumer advertising for Benecol to switch its focus toward gaining doctor recommendations for the line of cholesterol-lowering products (AA, Nov. 29).

NCI has handled direct-to-physician advertising and direct-to-patient communications-including in-office brochures-for the brand for more than two years. The agency will now be responsible for the development of print and radio efforts in more mainstream consumer outlets, although TV has been abandoned entirely for now.

DRIVEN TO DOCTORS

The new consumer campaign extends NCI's efforts to drive patients to talk to their doctors about Benecol, said Janet Hedrick, senior VP-account supervisor at NCI. The effort is set to break later this winter, according to a McNeil spokesman.

"When we decided to focus on physicians primarily, it made sense to use a specialty agency," he said. "But if we were to return to a full-scale consumer campaign, we would definitely go back to Saatchi & Saatchi."

Saatchi still handles the consumer effort for Benecol in the U.K., where "there is still a mass-marketing model," said Tom Lom, worldwide account director for Saatchi & Saatchi, New York.

Benecol's new consumer strategy resembles the growing number of direct-to-consumer efforts waged by pharmaceutical companies, which have successfully driven demand for prescription medications, said Sam Dranoff, senior director-marketing for healthcare consultancy Rx Remedy Information Services.

Research conducted by Rx found that 57% of older consumers surveyed said they consider DTC advertising a very reliable source of healthcare information, Mr. Dranoff said.

Because the link between the stanol esters contained in Benecol and heart disease prevention has yet to gain approval as a food claim by the FDA, the ads "try to allude to the clinical efficacy of the products," Mr. Dranoff said.

Such a tactic is likely to be used more often in the months to come as the line between food and drugs continues to blur. Recent indications of the trend include the joint venture announced last week between Novartis and Quaker Oats Co. to create Altus Food Co., a new company dedicated to developing and marketing foods that provide tangible health benefits. Also, Monsanto Co. recently tapped FCB Worldwide, New York, for the $30 million account for its new line of functional foods products.

McNeil spent $14.6 million in measured media against Benecol in the first 10 months of 1999, the bulk of which was spent on TV, according to Competitive Media Reporting.

Contributing: Laura Petrecca.

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