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McNeil Pharmaceutical Co. is moving its $41 million Nicotrol smoking cessation patch to Saatchi & Saatchi Advertising's Healthcare Connection, only last summer the loser in a heated shoot-out for the brand with DDB Needham Worldwide.

Although Nicotrol was the first patch approved for over-the-counter sales, it never managed to beat out later entries and Smith-Kline Beecham's NicoDerm CQ now outsells Nicotrol almost 2-to-1.

Nicotrol was introduced via DDB Needham with testimonial ads featuring real smokers living in Ann Arbor, Mich. The testimonials were replaced in December with ads starring actor-and former smoker-James Garner.


That campaign, with the tag line "When your cravings get tough, Nicotrol is tougher," was split between the two New York agencies with Healthcare Connection, an independent unit of Saatchi & Saatchi Advertising, producing at least two of the 10 commercials being used.

Executives close to the situation said the two agencies were constantly being pitted against each other. Healthcare Connection's co-managing director, Tom Lom, has a longstanding relationship with McNeil executives.

"Healthcare Connection is the right place for us to be right now," said a spokesman for McNeil, a unit of Johnson & Johnson. "It's a different ballgame, and we're doing some consolidation of agencies worldwide."

He wouldn't be more specific on how that consolidation might effect McNeil, other J&J brands or agencies. The company has already undertaken considerable shifting over the past five years.


Executives close to J&J believe more agency changes are in store as the company continues to consolidate along business sectors rather than by brands.

While McNeil said the Nicotrol campaign using Mr. Garner is expected to run through spring, it is not yet determined if the actor will return in new Healthcare Connection work. The agency is said to be negotiating a presence for the brand around the Super Bowl broadcast Jan. 26.

"Mr. Garner is credible to our target population. Smokers really identify with him, in terms of his life and characters he's played," said the McNeil spokesman.

It's an important win for Healthcare Connection, which is also seeking its first prescription-drug ad responsibilities.


McNeil recently won Food & Drug Administration approval for a smoking-cessation nasal spray, considered a promising OTC candidate, and FDA advisory committee approval for an inhaler product, all under the Nicotrol brand.

Healthcare Connection already handles many major OTC brands for McNeil parent company J&J, including Tylenol, Pepcid AC and Mylanta. DDB Needham remains worldwide agency of record for J&J skincare brands and also handles Ortho birth control products.

The $270.5 million OTC smoking-cessation category ignited when SmithKline Beecham's Nicorette gum crossed over from prescription last spring. NicoDerm CQ reached $66.9 million in sales, followed by Nicotrol with $35.2 million, through Dec. 1, said Information Resources Inc.

NicoDerm CQ distinguishes itself from Nicotrol with three strengths, an attribute that has been a psychological advantage with quitters and thus