Lamisil drafts Hill for $20 mil ad push

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Right from the start, the National Basketball Association knew it had a star in Grant Hill. His latest ad deal links him to a product that also has had early success: Novartis Consumer Health's Lamisil AT athlete's foot treatment.

This month, Novartis unveils an estimated $20 million TV and print campaign from Grey Advertising, New York, that touts the medicated foot cream, which has been available in non-prescription form only since last year.

Novartis bills Lamisil as the only athlete's foot medication that effectively treats the condition in one week, compared to the recommended four for competitors. The product made a splash soon after it came out; Novartis said it became the leading athlete's foot cream only five weeks after it launched.

Novartis has also inked a deal to make Lamisil "the official athlete's foot remedy of the NBA." The deal allows the company to use the NBA logo in its advertising and also includes media placements on NBA TV events, publications and Internet sites.

The new TV spots will attempt to convey that both Mr. Hill and Lamisil have strength, speed and endurance. Besides shooting hoops, Mr. Hill will row and lift weights in the 30- and 15-second commercials.

The ads mark an evolution in Lamisil advertising. Soon after switching the product from prescription to over-the-counter last year, Novartis spent about $20 million on a campaign featuring well-built but generic athletes playing basketball, running, biking and lifting weights. This year, Novartis attempts to put a face on the product.

Since joining the NBA in the fall of 1994, Mr. Hill has appeared in ads for McDonald's Corp., Coca-Cola Co.'s Sprite and Fila. Part of his appeal -- aside from being third in the league in points per game this season with the Detroit Pistons -- is his persona and trouble-free record.

Figures from Information Resources Inc. show Lamisil, which is sold in only cream form, was third with $36 million in sales in the $312 million foot care/athlete's foot category for the 52 weeks ended Feb. 27. The two leading brands (Schering-Plough's Lotrimin with $53 million in sales and Tinactin with $45 million) are sold in multiple forms.

Last month, Novartis received government clearance to switch its liquid form from Rx to OTC and the marketer will roll out spray pump and solution dropper lines.

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