Not the Usual Post-Holiday Weight-Loss Ad

TV Spot for Lap-Band Stresses 'Advantages' Over Gastric-Bypass Surgery

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NEW YORK ( -- After you wolf down the last of the pumpkin pie, loosen your belt and settle in for some post-Thanksgiving-dinner football, you might stumble upon a TV spot you won't want to see-for weight-loss surgery.

Yes, the company that introduced the world to Botox is launching a direct-to-consumer marketing blitz for its Lap-Band weight-loss surgery, believed to be the first national ad campaign touting an invasive surgical procedure.

The push from Allergan, created by Beacon Healthcare Communications, Bedminster, N.J., features a 60-second TV spot running on CBS (one of the networks running NFL Thanksgiving Day games) and several cable networks. It's also running print ads in professional journals and consumer and professional websites.

Allergan spent $118 million on measured media last year according to TNS Media Intelligence, $54.7 million of it on Botox. The company declined to offer a spending figure for the Lap-Band, but it's believed to be in the $10 million-$20 million range.

The Lap-Band System is a procedure for the obese, described by the Department of Health and Human Services as those people having a body-mass index of 30 or more. And the market is potentially huge: According to the latest study from the Centers for Disease Control in 2004, about 33.6% of Americans-one in three-could be considered obese.

Lap-Band is a medical device that is placed around the stomach and made larger or smaller via injections of saline. The device creates an hourglass-shaped stomach with a small upper pouch, about the size of a walnut, which serves as a patient's "new" stomach. The procedure is reversible.

Allergan's TV ad features Lap-Band System patient Cyndi Worthington, a Seattle mother and kindergarten teacher who lost 115 pounds following her procedure. The commercial showcases how the surgery acted as a partner for Cyndi as she worked to tame her hunger and turn her life around.

No celeb endorsers

Gastric-bypass surgery, the more common weight-loss alternative made famous by Al Roker and singer Carnie Wilson, among others, involves a longer surgical procedure that permanently creates a new stomach and bypasses about 4 feet of intestine.

"We found that prospective patients were more receptive and better able to relate their own experience to a 'real-life' patient because it gave them hope that they could achieve the same level of success," said Bart Bandy, senior VP at Allergan.

"To hear it from a patient is very impactful," said Tammy Kehe, VP of Network Affiliates, a Lakewood, Colo., health-care agency that specializes in localized ads for hospitals, doctors and procedures such as Lasik eye surgery and breast reduction/augmentation. "Testimonial campaigns are the best."

The Allergan spot also emphasizes Lap-Band's shorter surgery time and hospital stay compared with gastric bypass, and its lower complication and mortality rates.

Almost 170,000 weight-loss surgeries were performed in the U.S. in 2005, up from just 20,000 in 1995, according to the American Society for Bariatric Surgery. And while the costs vary widely depending on insurance, gastric bypass, which can include a two- to four-day, hospital stay costs about $25,000 compared with Lap-Band's $10,000.

Although Lap-Band bills itself as a less invasive alternative to gastric-bypass surgery, it nonetheless requires anesthesia. There have been local and regional advertisements for Lasik eye surgery and breast reduction/augmentation, and several hospitals have touted their knee-replacement surgeries or cancer-treatment options, but the campaign for Lap-Band is believed to be the first national ad for an invasive surgical procedure.

Two years ago, Stryker Corp. had a national TV campaign featuring legendary golfer Jack Nicklaus discussing his hip replacement, but the ads focused more on the company's innovative ceramic hip rather than the surgery itself.

"Given the huge number of weight-loss products marketed on the air, our team was challenged to develop an ad that would break through with a totally out-of-category look and feel, clearly position the Lap-Band system with target consumers, while responsibly communicating brand features, benefits and risks," said John Puglisi, president and managing director, Beacon Healthcare.

Allergan has also begun talks with the Food and Drug Administration regarding approval for the Lap-Band in children as young as 14 to help combat childhood obesity.
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