Sanofi-Aventis Mounts Ambien Defense

Sales Drop Finally Motivates Marketer

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Two weeks after news that taking Ambien could result in binge eating and driving while asleep, sales of sleeping medications began tanking, finally causing Sanofi-Aventis to wake up and advertise the safety of its product. And it looks like rivals won't be far behind.
A new ad campaign for Ambien looks to stem a recent sales drop following news the sleep aid could result in binge eating and driving while asleep.
A new ad campaign for Ambien looks to stem a recent sales drop following news the sleep aid could result in binge eating and driving while asleep.


The print campaign for Ambien, the $2.1 billion leader in the insomnia category, began three weeks after The New York Times reported March 8 that Ambien was linked to traffic arrests around the nation by drivers who had no memory of getting behind the wheel, and two weeks after researchers at the Minnesota Regional Sleep Disorders Centre and the Mayo Clinic found that some people who take Ambien binge-eat while sleeping.

In the two weeks after the Times' initial report, prescription data specialist Verispan Yardley, Pa., found that the number of new prescriptions for all sleeping medications slid more than 7% from the previous month. That's a big reversal, considering that sleeping pill prescriptions grew a whopping 55% between 2001 and 2005.

The 'real' story
Sanofi-Aventis' new full-page ads in national newspapers and magazines show a picture of a woman sleeping, with text underneath that reads, "The real Ambien story: It shouldn't keep you up at night." The ad addresses recent news reports that "have focused on rare occurrences of sleepwalking and sleep-eating in patients who may also be taking Ambien. But it's important to know the facts."

It is not known how long the campaign will run. Sanofi-Aventis did not return a call seeking comment.

Sepracor, marketer of Lunesta, a distant No. 2 player in the insomnia market behind Ambien, appears to have slightly tweaked the voice-over in its ads to emphasize the safety of Lunesta. A company spokesman, however, said no changes were made to the ad.

Hot on the heels of both is Indiplon, from Pfizer and Neurocrine Sciences. Indiplon has been approved and is expected to start an ad campaign early this summer.
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