Xenical reworks its ads

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After a costly launch campaign failed to deliver, Hoffmann-La Roche will break a follow-up TV and print offensive Feb. 6 for its much-hyped Xenical weight-loss drug. And it's clear Roche and its new agency, WPP Group's Y&R Advertising, New York, didn't ignore the past.

Gone are TV ads forced to detail the drug's jarring list of potential side effects. Gone is the male pitchman with the receding hairline who seemed incongruous with the female target. And gone are the shots of food common in the parade of ads for weight-loss products.

Instead, the new flight of awareness ads seek to prompt discussion between patient and physician about weight issues for health reasons. Some don't mention Xenical at all--meaning possible side effects such as increased bowel movements can go unmentioned. Another ad in the effort, with a similar look designed to create a link in consumer minds, mentions the drug name but not the condition it treats-again keeping the side effects off the air. Print does mention the Xenical name and the drug's potential benefits, but the required side-effect listings in print tend to be less obtrusive.

Overall, the creative has a softer and more sober feel than the initial campaign, which ran from September 1999 until it was pulled in early 2000. Roche then launched a review that shifted the business from Interpublic Group of Cos.' Lowe Consumer Healthcare, New York, to Y&R. Roche spent more than $100 million on the launch effort, according to Competitive Media Reporting; spending was not released for the new effort, but the account is said to be in the $80 million range for Y&R.

Analysts say the drug has underperformed. Roche once pegged potential annual sales at $1 billion; last year, sales totaled $186 million through the first 11 months, according to consultancy IMS Health, and sales for November 2000, the last month available, were the lowest all year. Still, Xenical continues to beat out rival Knoll Pharmaceuticals Co.'s Meridia, which posted $86 million in sales through the first 11 months of last year, according to IMS.

This time around, Roche hopes to reach doctors with the new consumer TV ads featuring patient-physician interaction.

Babies form the most enduring image in the creative as Roche builds a message that doctors have been weighing people since they were born, and thus discussion about weight is a natural topic at the doctor's office.

"We are all born into this world small-within three or four pounds of each other," the TV voice-over says. "Then life happens and we can end up weighing more than is healthy for us." At one point, a baby's face morphs into the face of an overweight woman. "`Extremely powerful," said Dick Hinson, Roche's VP-marketing "People see it as relieving them of guilt and enabling them to move forward."

Roche also is careful to peg being overweight as a health issue and is marketing Xenical as part of an overall health regimen. "It's less silver-bulletty," said Ann Hayden, managing partner-creative at Y&R. "It doesn't get out there and overpromise."

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