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Schering-Plough Corp. is employing comparative advertising, which has caused some bitter battles among over-the-counter pain relievers, in prescription drug ads.

In new ads for Claritin, Schering is leveraging last month's announcement by the Food & Drug Administration that it would try to remove rival Hoechst Marion Roussel's Seldane from the market.

Page newspaper ads that broke last week from Thomas Ferguson Associates, Parsippany, N.J., are part of an overall $50 million-plus campaign. The ads declare: "Seldane may no longer be an option. Claritin is a clear choice. A safe choice. No doubt about it."

Schering, which declined comment, has been an aggressive direct-to-consumer ad spender. It is among the first to take comparative ads to DTC; last year, Glaxo Wellcome and Grey Advertising, New York, tried the tactic, ironically aimed at Claritin, with a print ad for its Flonase allergy spray.


Hoechst itself is now running a campaign trying to switch Seldane users to its own Allegra before the FDA pulls the drug (AA, Jan. 20). It has until mid-February to challenge the FDA's effort.

The FDA's move came several months after the introduction of Allegra, reformulated to eliminate Seldane's dangerous potential interactions.

Because Claritin is so dominant, the new Claritin ad "seems a little silly and a little late," said Kathryn Griffie, manager of healthcare practice at Kline & Co.

Observers agree the comparative tack doesn't indicate a repeat of the Johnson & Johnson/American Home Products Corp. battle involving Tylenol and Advil. Indeed, Medicus Group International, which handles Seldane and Allegra, said it won't take up a fight.

"That would damage the category as a whole; it's not a strategy we would be comfortable with," said Lorraine Pastore, management director at Medicus. "HMR is a company that takes the high road and won't get involved in a mud-slinging campaign."

No. 2 Seldane represents about $189 million in sales in the $1.8 billion prescription allergy category. That was far short of Claritin's $597 million for the first 11 months of 1996, said IMS America.

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