Drug Maker Asks If Marketing Efforts for Diovan Should Use DTC Ads

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NEW YORK ( -- With the review for its hypertension drug Diovan ongoing, pharmaceutical maker Novartis is asking what role direct-to-consumer advertising should play in its marketing efforts.

Review narrowed
Novartis, which is headquartered in East Hanover, N.J., has narrowed its review to four agencies in the pitch, which covers DTC advertising as well as marketing to health-care professionals. The contenders are Grey Global Group's Grey Worldwide; Omnicom Group's Merkley Newman Harty; Interpublic Group of Cos.' Deutsch, all New York; and Havas' Arnold Worldwide Partners, Boston. Each agency has also partnered with shops that specialize in reaching health-care professionals.

DTC efforts have been

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little used in the hypertension category because of the glut of products available, and a campaign risks someone going to his or her doctor's office to ask for the advertised drug only to walk out with a prescription for a competitor's product. The victorious agency will have to help Novartis decide how aggressive it should be with DTC.

"I think it's a big question that's yet to be answered," said Kurt Graves, senior vice president and general manager of commercial operations for Novartis in the U.S. "We don't have anything planned in the near term, but it's something from a marketplace ... perspective that we want to investigate further and that's why were trying to find a strong partner to help us do that."

DTC sparingly used
As DTC has boomed as a marketing vehicle in recent years, Novartis has used it only sparingly -- primarily to back Lamisil, a remedy for toenail fungus -- but Mr. Graves said an evolution is under way.

"We're really making an effort to upgrade our consumer capabilities both internally with our employees in marketing and also the partners that we have on the agency side," he said.

Mr. Graves said Novartis' research has shown that a DTC effort could work in the crowded hypertension category, which includes brands such as Pfizer's Norvasc; Altace from King Pharmaceuticals and Wyeth, that broke the mold and used golfer Jack Nicklaus in consumer promotions; AstraZeneca's Plendil; Mercks's Cozaar and Hyzaar; and Pharmacia's Covera-HS. Traditionally, high-priced DTC efforts have been launched in categories in which there are a limited number of competitors, such as in the cholesterol-lowering drug arena.

"We've been doing a lot of insight research with consumers and we see opportunities" for DTC, Mr. Graves said. "But we haven't made a final decision on how aggressively to push that side of the [Diovan] brand."

If Deutsch wins, it will be the second large Novartis account it will have picked up this month. The agency just snagged the estimated $25 million-plus Lamisil account without a review. Regarding the selection of Deutsch for Lamisil, Mr. Graves said: "Their particular strength is they bring a really strong creative product to the table."

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