Umbilical Cord Stem Cell Banks Ramp Up Marketing Efforts

New Mothers Targeted; Potential $1 Billion Market Seen

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SAN FRANCISCO (AdAge.com) -- The only industry that can honestly say it has a once-in-a-lifetime offer is pushing into the ranks of the billion-dollar direct-to-consumer health-care marketplace.
The new services offer mothers the chance to store their offspring's own stem cells in a private bio bank for future use.
The new services offer mothers the chance to store their offspring's own stem cells in a private bio bank for future use.

A number of the nation's cord-blood banks, which freeze blood from a placenta and umbilical cord to use in case of a baby's future illness, are upping marketing expenditures that already more than doubled since 2001 to $4.2 million last year, according to TNS Media Intelligence.

Until recently, most of the banks have focused their marketing efforts on health-care professionals and in reaching expectant moms in doctors' offices. "Consumers are very interested but are looking to obstetricians for validation," said Morey Kraus, chief technology officer at ViaCell, which markets the ViaCord Blood Cord Service.

Web site gift registry
But with a potential $1 billion market at stake, ViaCell and others are expanding their marketing into TV, the Internet and magazines, joining marketing ranks populated by maternity fashion houses and stroller manufacturers. ViaCell, which spent $3.3 million in measured media last year, even has on its Web site a gift registry -- similar to those at department stores featuring cribs or booties -- where friends and family can contribute to the cost of the service.

ViaCell's "kit," used by a doctor or hospital to collect cells and ship them to a site where they are kept frozen, costs upward of $1,000. Annual fees for upkeep begin at $100 a year. Morse Advertising, Glen Ridge, N.J., handles marketing for ViaCell, a unit of ViaCord. Its media-buing agency is Retain Media, Oakland, Calif.

"It is literally nature's version of a one-time limited offer," said Stephen M. Grant, senior VP-communications, and co-founder, Cord Blood Registry. "We are moving to an inflection point in society-something that was garbage, a biohazard, is now a valuable part of human life."

He said the company works with a number of agencies, including SenaReider, San Francisco, and is in the process of negotiating to bring another shop on board. Registry advertising targeting women and the health-concerned has run on Discover Health, TLC and Lifetime cable networks. One spot shows a woman recommending the spot to a friend.

Challenges
Mr. Grant said one of the industry's biggest challenges is the tight timeline for making the sale. Women usually are unaware they are pregnant for the first month. That leaves a marketing window of only eight months. The company has a program for families in need and a discount for multiple birth and repeat customers.

Deb Mignucci, publisher of Weider Publications Group of American Media's Fit Pregnancy and iMom and Baby, said the category has seen "significant growth in the past three years," with more creative ads, including cover gatefolds and advertorials.

Mr. Kraus said there are 4.2 million births in America each year, but only about 3% of new mothers nationwide elect to store the baby's stem cells in private banks. Rates are as high as 25%, however, in metropolitan markets with higher ad penetration. He said the market has the potential to surge to $1 billion over time as the population becomes more educated about the registries, particularly private ones that are positioning themselves akin to health insurance.

Cord-blood stem cells can divide and create other stem cells or specialized cells such as a brain cell or muscle cell. Currently the cells can be used to help fight diseases such as leukemia, brain tumors and lymphoma, and a number of scientists see their potential as far ranging. "Serving as a sort of repair system for the body, they can theoretically divide without limit to replenish other cells as long as the person or animal is still alive," according to the National Institutes of Health.
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