Divorce Final: Boniva Splits with Saatchi, Picks Up Euro

EXCLUSIVE: Sales of Drug Were Up, But Agency Opted Out of $100 Million Review

By Published on .

jneff@crain.com and mcreamer@crain.com

The love triangle with Saatchi & Saatchi at its center has finally ended as the $100 million account for osteoporosis drug Boniva moves on to a new partner: Havas' Euro RSCG.

The breakup with the "Lovemarks" agency comes as something of a surprise, given that Boniva gained enough share and caused enough heartbreak to prompt a lawsuit from the marketers of rival Actonel. Only a month ago, a New York federal court rebuffed a bid to halt Bonvia's ads by the marketers of Actonel-Sanofi Aventis and Procter & Gamble Co.-the latter of which has billions in business parked at Saatchi.

Euro won Boniva's creative account following a review in which Omnicom Group's BBDO, New York, also pitched, according to a person familiar with the matter, who said Saatchi didn't defend. GlaxoSmithKline, one of the marketing partners on Boniva, declined to comment. Hoffman LaRoche, the other partner, didn't return calls.

tough spot

Though Saatchi's tryst with Boniva did not violate P&G's conflict policy-and a person familiar with the matter said P&G raised no objection when the agency hooked up with the account in 2004-the legal battle put the agency in a compromising position, considering its success was denting Actonel, P&G's only billion-dollar drug brand. Not only is P&G Saatchi's biggest client, Saatchi has more P&G business than any other agency.

A P&G spokeswoman declined to comment. Saatchi executives either couldn't be reached or declined to comment.

After P&G filed the suit in January, it replaced Actonel's agency, WPP Group's Grey Global Group, New York, with Omnicom's DDB Worldwide, New York. Grey's MediaCom continues to handle media for Boniva, since that was not an apparent violation of P&G's conflict policy, either. Publicis Groupe's Starcom Mediavest Group handles media planning and buying for Actonel.

In a ruling last month rejecting P&G's motion for an injunction against Boniva's ads and other marketing, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York noted Actonel's share appears to have declined in the $3 billion osteoporosis-drug market as Boniva achieved a 5% to 8% share since its launch. But the court said it wasn't clear P&G was financially harmed, because the market may have grown sufficiently to make up for the loss of share. P&G appealed.

Boniva ads from Saatchi focused on the convenience of the once-monthly drug. Category leader Fosamax from Merck & Co. and Actonel must be taken weekly.

P&G's suit alleged Boniva's ads and other marketing falsely implied the drug works as well as Actonel to prevent fractures beyond the spine, though it was approved by the Food and Drug Administration only to prevent spinal fractures. Actonel was approved to treat some nonspinal fractures as well as spinal fractures.

But the trial court's ruling appeared to allow claims stronger-or at least more explicit-than ones P&G tried to stop. It cited an FDA determination in May that rejected as misleading a proposed ad by DDB suggesting Actonel works better than Boniva beyond the spine. An FDA letter said, "Actonel failed to reduce fractures better than placebo at leg and hip and in fact was worse than placebo at collarbone."

The court said the letter left no doubt that Boniva is safe and effective "for the treatment and prevention of osteoporosis in postmenopausal women, without limitation as to vertebral and nonvertebral sites."
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