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In a first for the petcare industry, SmithKline Beecham's Animal Health unit will use an interactive phone service to direct consumers to nearby veterinarians.

The program will be tested in the Dallas-Fort Worth area and Tampa, Fla., next month before an expected national rollout. It uses a toll-free number to encourage pet owners to get regular veterinary care for their animals.

Actress and longtime animal activist Loretta Swit stars with Veronica, a former shelter cat, in two 30-second TV spots created by SmithKline and MRN, Los Angeles, that promote the service.

One commercial urges regular veterinary care for dogs and cats. Another informs cat owners about feline infectious peritonitis and encourages them to talk to a vet about the virus.

Working with Sprint Telemedia, SmithKline is setting up an 800-number that appears at the end of the spots. After calling in, consumers will be directed through a series of interactive prompts until they are matched with the nearest participating vets.

Pet owners can even be connected directly to a veterinary clinic or hospital through the service.

"This is the first time this kind of technology has been used in the veterinary industry," said Sarah German, manager of advertising for SmithKline Beecham's Animal Health unit. "It's a great way for us to offer a new service to our customers and to raise awareness for petcare."

SmithKline Beecham markets a variety of prescription animal health and nutrition products and sells over-the-counter products, such as shampoos, through veterinarians.

The company has advertised directly to consumers through print and radio in the past and has even run occasional public service TV spots. But the phone-based program is its first foray into interactivity.

"New technologies are really broadening the possibilities for outreach and marketing," Ms. German said. "The new program is a great way to focus in on specific consumers and specific" vets.

Ms. German said the nearly $1 million program will be evaluated before being expanded to other areas, but SmithKline Beecham is optimistic about its potential success.

Chesebrough-Pond's ran a similar campaign last year that referred callers with skincare questions to local dermatologists. The company was pleased with the results and wants to repeat the program this year.

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