Get healthy, or get your money back

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Novartis last week broke the first major unbranded DTC campaign since the Food and Drug Administration asked pharmaceutical companies to produce more consumer awareness marketing, but this one has a twist: a money-back guarantee that all but pushes patients to Novartis brands.

"Take Action For Healthy Blood Pressure" is Novartis' latest DTC effort, via Interpublic Group of Cos.' Deutsch, New York. The TV, print, Internet and direct-marketing campaign targets the 60 million Americans who suffer from high blood pressure, and the 40 million of those who do not have the condition under control and fail to comply with a recommended course of treatment.

The marketer declined to reveal a budget, but did say it would spend $25 million in this quarter alone and called the campaign "the most expensive initiative the company has ever undertaken." Novartis spent $388 million in measured media last year, according to TNS Media Intelligence/CMR. Its biggest individual brand's ad spending was $67 million for eczema medication Elidel.

Novartis Pharmaceuticals CEO Thomas Ebeling said the "Take Action For Healthy Blood Pressure" campaign is part of the company's marketing plan to integrate more and more tactics of consumer goods.

"We have put people in place here, even at the junior levels, that used to work for P&G and Pepsi and other marketers," Mr. Ebeling said from Novartis' worldwide headquarters in Basel, Switzerland. "This industry needs to learn from other industries how to market its products."

Some have praised the campaign, particularly for meeting the FDA's call for more unbranded, or help-seeking, advertising. The FDA earlier this year introduced new draft guidelines for DTC marketing and asked pharmaceutical companies to produce more disease-awareness campaigns that encouraged patients to see their doctor.


In fact, when Novartis made the formal announcement last month, it did so in Washington, with several agencies represented and a statement from Tommy G. Thompson, U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services.

But others call the money-back guarantee a gimmick. Under the terms of the promotion, patients who do not reach the agreed-upon target blood pressure goal as determined by their health care professional will be eligible for reimbursement of up to four months of out-of-pocket drug costs. But that's only after taking the maximum dose of Novartis' hypertension medications Diovan, Diovan HCT or Lotrel.

`a goofy idea'

Diovan is Novartis' biggest-selling drug, with $2.4 billion in sales last year according to NDC Health, Atlanta. In the ultra-competitive hypertension market-which features more than 90 brands-Diovan is second only to Pfizer's Norvasc.

Harvard University's Dr. Jerry Avorn, who co-authored a recent study that said doctors should first prescribe cheaper hypertensives before brand-name drugs, called the money-back guarantee "a goofy idea."

But Mr. Ebeling countered by saying "the approach of unbranded gives more credibility. The money-back guarantee is when you are extremely convinced that your drugs will work that you have the confidence to do such a thing. Also, it's a known mechanism for consumers that also gives credibility to the program."

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