SmithKline readies DTC effort for Lyme disease vaccine

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Soft-drink, suntan lotion and sunglasses categories aren't alone in gearing up summer campaigns -- add a Lyme disease vaccine to the list.

SmithKline Beecham this week breaks an unbranded marketing campaign using TV, print, outdoor and consumer promotion for its Rx drug Lymerix that warns consumers in high-risk areas to watch for Lyme disease. SmithKline spent more than $18 million on Lymerix last year, according to Competitive Media Reporting, a figure that could increase significantly in 2000 as the campaign is set to run the length of Lyme disease season into the fall.

"I never thought I was a target for Lyme disease . . . until I found out you can get it in your local park, in your own back yard, or even mowing the lawn," says the multiperson voice-over in the TV spot. The campaign's aim is to give consumers a sense of urgency so they consult a physician about Lyme disease and prevention options.

`LATENT THREAT'

"It's a latent threat," said Matt Giegerich, president of Lymerix agency the Quantum Group, Parsippany, N.J. "People don't really believe they're going to get it."

The TV, print and outdoor effort launches in six regions with high incidences of Lyme disease: New York, New Jersey and southern Connecticut; Philadelphia; Hartford/New Haven, Conn.; Minneapolis/St. Paul; LaCrosse/Eau Claire, Wis.; and Duluth/Superior, Minn. Radio started earlier this month.

TV, print and outdoor feature tailored maps of the individual regions with blown-up city names and large target symbols superimposed on them. Print and outdoor executions feature an anguished man, who also appears in the TV spot.

"I never thought about Lyme disease until my neighbor got it mowing his lawn," reads an ad that features a man's face.

The campaign also includes guerrilla marketing from EinsonHealth, Parsippany, N.J. Smith-Kline will send lime green Volkswagen Beetles with "Prevent Lyme disease. Call your doctor now" painted on the side to events like county fairs and horse shows. At those events, a "Lyme Green Tick Team" will hand out information. Consumers can also enter a contest to win a green Beetle -- sans the painted warning.

Both Quantum Group and EinsonHealth are divisions of CommonHealth USA, perhaps best-known for its work on Schering-Plough Corp.'s Claritin allergy medication, which generates more direct-to-consumer spending than any other drug.

The Quantum Group picked up the Lymerix account in a review last fall. Rubin Ehrenthal, New York, launched the product with a branded effort in 1999.

NO RIVALS

This year's unbranded effort allows SmithKline to avoid mentioning Lymerix's possible side effects in its ads. An unbranded campaign also makes sense since Lymerix is the only Lyme disease vaccine approved by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration.

Lymerix posted $24 million in U.S. sales last year, according to consultancy IMS Health. The vaccine was approved by the FDA in December 1998 and became available in early 1999.

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