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In a nod to how much Prozac and Viagra have moved the marketing dialogue, Glaxo Wellcome today launches an ad campaign that links two once-taboo subjects: depression and sex.

The unbranded campaign for antidepressant Wellbutrin SR seeks to position the drug as a treatment option that will ease depression without causing sexual side effects.


The 60-second TV spot will run in major markets and marks the first time Glaxo has advertised Wellbutrin directly to consumers.

"There's been a cultural shift," said Andrew Schirmer, exec VP-creative partner at Consumer Healthworks, New York, agency for the effort. "People feel more comfortable discussing depression and sex than ever before."

The campaign serves as an example of how direct-to-consumer advertising of prescription drugs is evolving. No longer used only for easy-to-talk-about problems, such as allergies, marketers now are unafraid to tackle delicate subjects such as bladder control, erectile dysfunction or depression's effect on the libido.

The budget for the campaign couldn't be determined, but Glaxo is one of the most aggressive DTC marketers, spending about $184 million last year, according to Competitive Media Reporting.


Glaxo is defying conventional wisdom by doing DTC ads for a drug that's only the No. 4 player in the $6.7 billion U.S. retail antidepressant market. The effort could drive people into a doctor's office only to have them come out with a prescription for the market leader.

Eli Lilly & Co.'s Prozac has 35% of the market, followed by Pfizer's Zoloft with 22%; SmithKline Beecham's Paxil with 19%; and Wellbutrin's Sustained-Release formulation with 7%, according to consultancy Scott-Levin..

The drugs mitigate depression but can decrease sexual desire. Unlike its competitors, Wellbutrin is believed to increase the brain chemical that often depresses that desire.

Glaxo is betting that people already taking Prozac and other such drugs are frustrated enough by side effects that they will seek something else. The marketer also is trying to offer an option to depressed people who are afraid to go on medication because of the possible sexual side effect.

"There are people who say, 'I'll give up my husband before I give up my Prozac,' " Mr. Schirmer said. "In order to change that mindset, we need to empower patients to believe it doesn't have to be that way."

The campaign's primary target is women, who research shows are more likely to be proactive in seeking help than men. Women also serve as healthcare gatekeepers, who may encourage their husbands or other family members to seek treatment for a condition.


The ad begins with a husband looking at his anguished wife as she sits on a porch. Later, he puts his hands on her shoulders as she stands in front of a sink, only to be met with a cool response.

Chosen to lend a compassionate tone, the female voice-over says: "If you have depression, you may already know that certain antidepressants can cause sexual side effects in some people. But here's something you may not know: Not all antidepressants are alike."

The spot ends with the couple, post-help from Wellbutrin, kissing while running on the beach.

Mr. Schirmer said the beach scene was chosen because research showed people equate the beach with freedom, a contrast to the entrapment of depression.

Mr. Schirmer said the ad, which doesn't mention Wellbutrin by name, is to raise awareness about a treatment option, but suggested a branding campaign mentioning

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