The Gillette Company enjoyed a position of dominance in men’s toiletries, a broad category that included not only deodorants and antiperspirants but also such items as pre- and aftershave products. Deodorants and antiperspirants, however, remained the largest product categories in toiletries, with Gillette’s Right Guard brand among the leaders. Gillette had attained its leadership in the market through a combination of new product development, technological innovation, and an expanding global presence.
By the mid-1990s marketers of deodorants and antiperspirants were no longer emphasizing protection against odor but rather various aesthetic factors. New developments included products that were clear and that left no residue on clothing as well as protectants that were formulated to glide on easily. This new approach in product development and marketing came at a time when sales of antiperspirants and deodorants had begun to stagnate, a sign that the market was saturated. With the advent of clear gels and sticks, however, the market began growing again. Not unexpectedly, industry leader Gillette was in the forefront of the growth. Seeking continuity in its marketing, it rolled out its clear stick and clear gel products under the banner of its long-running ‘‘Anything Else Would Be Uncivilized’’ campaign, using famous athletes in unlikely situations to promote the new items. Although response to the campaign was mixed, Gillette was able to maintain and even improve upon its market share.
For almost a century Gillette had been the worldwide leader in products for male grooming, a category originally comprising blades, razors, and other shaving accoutrements. But toiletries for men came to form only a portion of the company’s vast global sales. Gillette also achieved a dominant market position in writing implements, correction products, and toothbrushes and oral care appliances. Relying on its traditional strengths of research and development, advertising, and geographic expansion, the company managed to continue to sustain its growth. Founded in Boston in 1901 by King C. Gillette, the company introduced the world’s first safety razor two years later. A patent for the device followed in 1904. In 1905 Gillette expanded outside the United States, establishing a sales office in London and a manufacturing operation in Paris. The famous Gillette Blue Blade was introduced in 1932 and an innovative dispenser that eliminated the need to unwrap razor blades after World War II. Gillette diversified its operations after the war. In 1955 it acquired the Paper Mate Pen Company, an expansion into the area of stationery that it has maintained since. Hoping to secure its grip on the toiletries market, Gillette introduced Right Guard aerosol deodorant in 1960. Brisk sales of the deodorant, along with innovations in shaving products, pushed annual Gillette sales past the $1 billion mark for the first time in 1973. In the 1980s Gillette continued to expand by acquiring Liquid Paper Corp., a maker of correction products, and Oral-B Laboratories, a toothbrush manufacturer. But the company had to fend off numerous hostile takeover bids, and it embarked on a dramatic restructuring program in order to increase profitability. In 1990 the company introduced the Sensor shaving system in 16 countries. Since that time Gillette has continued to seek competitive advantage in its three businesses: personal grooming products, stationery products, and small electrical appliances. By 1997 sales exceeded $10 billion. With a workforce of 44,000 in 63 facilities worldwide, the company distributed its products in more than 200 countries and territories around the globe.
By sharing resources among its units to optimize performance, Gillette hoped to nurture sustained sales and profit growth. Its plan was to maintain its market dominance by shrewdly investing in the technologies that were vital to success in each of its core businesses. This strategy informed the 1993 launch of Gillette Series Clear Gel antiperspirant. This product was followed in 1996 by the introduction of clear stick products under the Gillette and Right Guard brand names. The company’s stated mission, however, remained unchanged—
‘‘to offer consumers products of the highest level of performance for value.’’
‘‘Anything Else Would Be Uncivilized’’ was first introduced as the tag line in Right Guard ads in 1986. The New York advertising agency NW Ayer & Partners had created the commercials to appeal to sports-loving male consumers. Early spots featured such sports celebrities as the basketball player Charles Barkley, football’s Brian Bosworth, baseball player Kirk Gibson, boxer Marvin Hagler, and wrestler Terry ‘‘Hulk’’ Hogan, along with action film star Chuck Norris. The common trait of these celebrity spokesmen was an aggressive nature and tough-guy demeanor.
With the launch of Right Guard Clear Stick Antiperspirant and Deodorant in 1996, Gillette again turned to NW Ayer to create an appeal to the active male. The agency developed a new print and television ad campaign featuring Scottie Pippen of the National Basketball Association (NBA) champion Chicago Bulls. By placing a highly recognizable sports star in an unfamiliar visual context—in this case on a croquet lawn—the ad team hoped to provide a juxtaposition that would grab the attention of the male sports fans who bought Right Guard.
By the mid-1990s Gillette had reasons to be concerned about its toiletries business. According to data from Information Resources, sales of deodorants and antiperspirants in food, drug, and mass-merchandising stores fell 1.1 percent in 1996 to $1.4 billion. Among the top five leading brands, only Procter & Gamble’s Secret and Colgate-Palmolive’s Mennen registered sales gains. The dollar sales of Secret rose 3 percent, while Mennen’s sales increased 13.1 percent. According to Mennen’s own figures, its Speed Stick grew two to three times faster than its other brands.
The tremendous rise in Speed Stick sales could be explained by three key factors: the introduction of Speed Stick gel in March 1996, improvements to the traditional stick formula that kept cannibalization of existing products to a minimum, and an aggressive marketing program that motivated consumers. Because of the success of Speed Stick, Gillette moved quickly to replicate the formula.
In the category of clear antiperspirants, Gillette chose to focus its efforts on promoting its existing line instead of launching a new one. Accordingly, in 1996, when Peter Clay was named vice president for business management of Gillette toiletries, he was given a simple mission—to take the technology already in use on Gillette Series Clear Gel and put it into an antiperspirant stick form. Gillette poured $30 million into research and development on the clear stick.
The first fruit of Clay’s mandate was Gillette Series Clear Stick, introduced in the summer of 1996. This was followed later in the year by Right Guard Clear Stick. Together the two products were the first truly clear antiperspirant sticks on the market that did not leave white residue on the body or clothes. ‘‘It’s an antiperspirant formula that’s a challenge because it’s hard to get the efficaciousness of a stick without white residue,’’ Clay explained to Advertising Age. To emphasize the difference, Clay decided to make the packaging clear, and, to drive home the distinction even further, he had stickers bearing the legend ‘‘No White Residue’’ placed on every package. Under the aegis of Clay and his staff, NW Ayer created the product’s $25 million ad campaign. For its national ad campaign Gillette commissioned the agency to create a series of television commercials using the slogan ‘‘Anything Else Would Be Uncivilized.’’ The tag line had been a staple of Right Guard spots since 1986. Industry veteran Stan Schofield was selected to direct the ads, and Scottie Pippen of the NBA champion Chicago Bulls was chosen to appear in the spots as celebrity spokesman. The sports connection was obvious, since many previous Right Guard spots had used superstar athletes. But Gillette had other reasons for choosing Pippen. ‘‘We decided to utilize Scottie because he is a driving force on the most powerful team in the NBA and truly embodies the spirit of Right Guard,’’ Carole Johnson, Gillette’s vice president for personal care products, told PR Newswire.
To provide humor that would help make the ad memorable, NW Ayer’s creative team attired Pippen demurely in an Edwardian cable knit sweater vest and placed him on a croquet lawn. His mouthing of the campaign’s tag line thus became the blithe comment of a sophisticate who has finally found a deodorant that will not jeopardize the aesthetics of his leisure ensemble. For Gillette’s Johnson, the use of a basketball player was winningly apropos. ‘‘On the court, he’s a tough competitor and a highly respected player,’’ she told PR Newswire. ‘‘Portraying him in an unexpectedly gentle and reserved manner provides a contrast that is both attention-getting and humorous.’’ The first ads of the new campaign began airing in January 1997. The commercials appeared in prime time on broadcast networks and cable television outlets in 15- and 30-second versions. The accompanying print campaign ran in sports and general-interest publications.
In January 1997 the 10-year relationship between Right Guard and NW Ayer & Partners came to an end. Gillette shifted its account, whose value was estimated at $10 million, to New York-based Saatchi & Saatchi Advertising. The new agency now faced the challenge of putting a fresh twist on the ‘‘Anything Else Would Be Uncivilized’’ campaign. In January 1998, Saatchi & Saatchi debuted its first television commercials. The 15-and 30-second spots were shown during NBC’s national telecast of the FedEx Orange Bowl college football game. Retaining the ‘‘Anything Else Would Be Uncivilized’’ tag line, the new spots again placed a prominent athlete in an unlikely situation, this time Dallas Cowboys running back Emmitt Smith as the master of a team of show dogs. ‘‘When one is competing for the eye of the judges,’’ Smith remarked in the 30-second spot, as he held a pack of bulldogs at bay, ‘‘one must keep a firm leash on odor and perspiration.’’ The dogs then performed tricks at Smith’s command. The spot ended with Smith accepting a trophy for best of show as he uttered the tag line. The commercials were followed by print ads in sports and general-interest periodicals. Some critics questioned the choice of Smith, a veteran on the downside of his career, as the new spokesman. But Gillette was quick to offer a defense of its new standard bearer. ‘‘Emmitt’s championship attitude and tenacious style of play mirror the Right Guard image and make him a great candidate for the campaign,’’ said Clay. ‘‘He is a driving force on the field and a highly respected player by both teammates and fans; depicting him as reserved and genteel is a contradiction that is entertaining and humorous.’’
Despite favorable reaction in the media, the Right Guard ‘‘Anything Else Would Be Uncivilized’’ ads failed to impress consumers. USA Today’s Ad Track measured the popularity and effectiveness of the Pippen commercials in the spring of 1997. A scant 11 percent of respondents who had seen the spots at least three times reported that they liked them a great deal. The Right Guard commercials thus ranked among the least popular campaigns measured by Ad Track in its first two years of polling.
There also were mixed results among demographic groups. Older consumers tended to like the ads, with 19 percent responding very favorably. The spots were clearly targeted at the young, however. But only 14 percent of those polled between the ages of 18 and 24 gave high popularity marks to the ads. Even more vexing for Right Guard’s marketers was the lukewarm response of male consumers, the campaign’s core market. Only 9 percent of men liked the ads a lot, compared with 14 percent of women.
When Ad Track sought to measure consumer recall, the Right Guard ads elicited more positive responses. More than 60 percent of those surveyed reported that they had seen an ‘‘Anything Else Would Be Uncivilized’’ ad on more than one occasion. Industry observers credited the campaign’s high recall numbers to its effective use of humor.
It remained to be seen whether the Saatchi & Saatchi ads featuring Smith would do anything to improve the poll numbers. The initial critical response to the ads was less than encouraging. At best, Gillette was faulted for bad timing in choosing Smith to do the ads. For the first time in seven seasons the Dallas Cowboys had failed to make the National Football League play-offs, and Smith himself was widely seen as being headed for retirement. ‘‘Smith is a likable athlete,’’ said Denise Gellene in the Los Angeles Times, ‘‘but for now, at least, he isn’t a winner.’’
Although the deodorant category as a whole was flat in 1997, Gillette, along with other top brands, posted sizable gains. According to Information Resources, sales of Gillette’s Right Guard grew 4.9 percent during the year.
Saturday, March 28, 2009
In 1999 Paxil, manufactured by SmithKline Beecham (now GlaxoSmithKline plc), was third among the pharmaceutical industry’s best-selling SSRIs, a class of drugs then used primarily to treat depression and anxietyrelated maladies. The drugmaker’s strategy for gaining ground on rivals Prozac and Zoloft included extending Paxil’s market by winning approval by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to treat other forms of mental illness. When, in May of that year, the FDA made Paxil its only approved treatment for social anxiety disorder, the drug finally found itself in a position, after seven years on the market, to outsell its rivals. Social anxiety disorder was a little-known condition at the time, but estimates by SmithKline Beecham put the number of potential Paxil customers in the United States at close to 10 million. Enlisting the public relations firm Cohn & Wolfe as well as Paxil’s advertising agency of record, McCann Erickson Consumer Health, SmithKline Beecham mounted a combined physician, PR, and directto-consumer branded campaign that was meant to inform Americans about social anxiety disorder and to let them know that Paxil alone had been approved to treat it.
Immediately after learning of the FDA ruling,
SmithKline Beecham increased its spending on physician-targeted ads to get the word out about the new Paxil designation. Meanwhile, the drugmaker funded a public-service campaign meant to spread awareness of social anxiety disorder. Then, in September 1999, a $30 million push of the Paxil brand began its run on television and in magazines with national circulations. SmithKline Beecham focused its message about social anxiety disorder on professionals between the ages of 18 and 34, with an emphasis on men, who were believed more likely to seek help for the condition because of career concerns.
The PR campaign resulted in more than a billion media references to social anxiety disorder, up from roughly 50 in previous years, almost all of which mentioned that Paxil was the only approved treatment for the condition. Seven months after its launch, the campaign had made the Paxil brand name one of the most recognized prescription drugs in the United States, and the drug was responsible for a sizeable increase in the anxiety medication category. Paxil gained on its SSRI rivals and experienced sustained sales growth, a trend that continued as the drug won further treatment designations, and the company adapted its marketing accordingly in the following years.
In 1987 Eli Lilly and Company won U.S. approval to sell Prozac, the first among a class of drugs called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) that treated clinical depression by elevating levels of serotonin—a chemical believed crucial to regulating mood—in the brain. Prozac’s effectiveness and lack of side effects compared to existing medications for depression revolutionized not only the way mental illness was treated by psychiatrists but also the way it was perceived by the public. By 1992, when Pfizer and SmithKline Beecham introduced their own SSRIs, Zoloft and Paxil, respectively, depression had lost much of its stigma in the United States. In the following years SSRIs became one of the best-selling prescription drug categories.
For its first several years on the market, Paxil remained in third place among SSRIs, and SmithKline Beecham set its sights on new markets for the drug. In the mid-1990s Paxil won FDA approval for the treatment of anxiety-related conditions like panic disorder and obsessive-compulsive disorder. Though these markets led to substantial growth for the brand, it was the FDA’s approval of Paxil in 1999 as a treatment for a little-known condition called social anxiety disorder that gave the drug its first significant advantage over competitors. Social anxiety disorder, or debilitating shyness, was a condition that, according to SmithKline Beecham, affected as many as 10 million Americans, and Paxil was the only FDA-approved treatment. SmithKline Beecham was aided in its attempt to reach this untapped market by an easing of FDA regulations in 1997 that governed the advertising of prescription drugs. The policy shift almost immediately changed the nature of the advertising of prescription drugs, as pharmaceutical companies, which traditionally had focused on physicians and other medical professionals in their marketing efforts, began to rely on advertising their products directly to consumers, much as was done with other consumer goods. Though restrictions remained regarding the disclosure of side effects and though the FDA retained a role in approving advertisements, directto-consumer pharmaceutical marketing quickly became ubiquitous in the United States, increasingly putting patients rather than their doctors in the position of deciding which drugs might best satisfy their needs.
The social anxiety disorder campaign targeted professionals aged 18–34 who, despite appearing normal, experienced overwhelming fear in social or work-related situations. SmithKline Beecham estimated that the total number of people suffering from the condition in the United States numbered 10 million, and the company believed that only 5 percent of these people were being treated. The company thus set out to define social anxiety disorder for an enormous untapped market, to let people know that they were not alone in their suffering, and to urge people to seek out Paxil, the only available FDAapproved treatment. As the Paxil product director, Barry Brand, told Advertising Age, ‘‘Every marketer’s dream is to find an unidentified or unknown market and develop it. That’s what we were able to do with social anxiety disorder.’’
The National Institute of Mental Health, however, placed the number of sufferers from social anxiety disorder at around 5 million. This discrepancy pointed to a controversy surrounding the subjectivity of diagnosis and, by extension, SmithKline Beecham’s marketing of Paxil. While SmithKline Beecham argued that it was catering to an overwhelming need and helping relieve previously untreated suffering, critics believed that the drugmaker was artificially creating a market for Paxil by encouraging the merely shy to diagnose themselves with the more debilitating form of social phobia. It was estimated that twice as many women suffered from social anxiety disorder as men, but in a departure from conventional wisdom men appeared more likely to seek treatment for the condition. In most medical matters men were less likely to seek treatment, but as McCann Erickson’s Nan Dillon told Advertising Age, ‘‘This tends to be the exception because social anxiety disorder can actually damage a man’s career.’’
When the Paxil social anxiety campaign was launched, Prozac was the SSRI market leader and Eli Lilly’s biggest earner, with annual sales approaching $3 billion. In the summer of 1999 a Prozac campaign narrowly preceded Paxil’s social anxiety disorder ads to become the first-ever TV marketing of a psychiatric drug. The centerpiece of the Prozac campaign was a 30-minute infomercial that aired on local and cable networks late at night and on weekends, when people with untreated depression were believed likely to be watching. The infomercial featured a mostly female cast of Prozac users giving testimonials, as well as imagery of presumably depressed people and informational segments with doctors talking about depression and its treatment. Mental health experts were divided on the question of whether it was appropriate to pitch Prozac under the cover of public-service programming. The company supported the infomercial with 30-second TV spots offering a toll-free number to call for more information.
Paxil’s other major competitor in the SSRI market, Pfizer’s Zoloft, whose 1999 sales were estimated at $2 billion, had not yet used direct-to-consumer advertising. In early 2000, however, Pfizer initiated an account review with the intention of moving the duties for Zoloft advertising away from health care specialists Lyons Lavey Nickel Swift to a general-market agency. Deutsch Inc. won the review and began preparing a Zoloft direct-toconsumer message. Having already won approval for treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder, Zoloft was well positioned to benefit from the dramatic increase in SSRI prescriptions following the terrorist attacks in the United States on September 11, 2001. direct-to-consumer campaign supporting BuSpar. One of only two drugs approved to treat generalized anxiety disorder at the time, BuSpar was also used to treat depression. Unlike its competitors among psychiatric drugs, BuSpar was not associated with such side effects as drowsiness and loss of libido. The BuSpar campaign targeted women via magazines like Good Housekeeping and People and, using an image of a cartoon female with symptoms of anxiety, on broadcast and cable TV.
Soon after the FDA decision in May 1999 allowing Paxil to be marketed as a treatment for social anxiety disorder, SmithKline Beecham increased its spending on physician-targeted ads by $1 million, according to Medical Marketing and Media. The company changed the copy in medical journals from ‘‘Paxil means peace . . . in depression, panic disorder, and OCD’’ to ‘‘Show them they can . . . the first and only approved treatment for social anxiety disorder.’’
Meanwhile, SmithKline Beecham funded an informational and public relations campaign to spread awareness about social anxiety disorder. Sponsored by a trio of advocacy organizations—the American Psychiatry Association, the Anxiety Disorders Association of America, and Freedom From Fear—the campaign was orchestrated by the New York PR firm Cohn & Wolfe and was designed, according to PR News, ‘‘to educate reporters, consumers, and, in some cases, physicians, in an effort to encourage diagnosis and treatment.’’ Featuring posters placed at bus stops across the country and the tagline ‘‘Imagine being allergic to people,’’ the PR campaign did not explicitly mention Paxil or SmithKline Beecham. Likewise, Cohn & Wolfe technically represented the nonprofit organizations and the doctors involved, even though SmithKline Beecham paid for the campaign. Virtually all of the sizeable media coverage Cohn & Wolfe generated mentioned not just the Paxil name but also the fact that it was the only FDAapproved treatment for the condition.
In September 1999 SmithKline Beecham launched its first Paxil direct-to-consumer ads, a TV and print campaign crafted by McCann Erickson Consumer Health and with an estimated cost of $30 million. Like the public relations efforts, the branded advertising was intended to define the condition for potential Paxil users and to give afflicted Americans comfort by sending the message that they were not alone. This portion of the campaign also sought more directly to raise awareness of the Paxil name.
In an attempt to reach its core target of 18- to 34-year-old professionals, SmithKline Beecham bought airtime on prime-time shows like Ally McBeal and ran the print ads in magazines that included Rolling Stone and Sports Illustrated. Both the television spots and the print ads used the tagline ‘‘Your life is waiting,’’ and they directed consumers to ask themselves whether they experienced anxiety that made them avoid social interaction, that resembled a panic attack, or that was detrimental to their social or professional life. The 60-second TV spot informed viewers that more than 10 million Americans suffered from social anxiety disorder and that sufferers were a mix of male and female professionals engaged in productive office and social activities. In keeping with the belief that men were more likely to seek treatment for social anxiety disorder, the print ads primarily targeted male professionals, with the primary image being a distraught man in business clothes.
PR News reported that, as a result of the campaign to advertise social anxiety disorder, media references to the condition climbed to more than 1 billion articles, up from 50 in 1997 and 1998, with 96 percent conveying the information that Paxil was the only FDA-approved treatment then available. After the campaign had been running for seven months, according to Medical Marketing and Media, Paxil scored third among advertised prescription drugs in unaided recall, behind Viagra and Claritin. Paxil’s market share among anxiety drugs from December 1998 to May 1999, the months immediately preceding the campaign, was 9.3 percent of 6.7 million prescriptions. From June to October 1999, as the campaign ran, Paxil’s market share not only grew to 11.5 percent but was responsible for half of the increase in the entire market, which grew to 7.2 million prescriptions. In 2000 British rival Glaxo Wellcome merged with SmithKline Beecham. In its 2000 annual report the new entity, GlaxoSmithKline, claimed that Paxil ‘‘became number one in the U.S. selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor market for new retail prescriptions in 2000.’’ In 2001 GlaxoSmithKline won FDA approval to market Paxil for both generalized anxiety disorder and posttraumatic stress disorder. Paxil continued to outpace its rivals in sales growth. The terrorist attacks in the United States on September 11, 2001, resulted in a dramatic increase in prescriptions for all antidepressants and anxiety drugs. During this time Paxil’s advertising positioned it as an answer to the uncontrollable feelings of fear and helplessness that many people felt in the aftermath of the attacks.
NicoDerm CQ, a sticky patch that adhered to the skin and delivered a steady flow of nicotine to help ease the physical withdrawal symptoms associated with quitting smoking, was introduced by its manufacturer, the pharmaceutical company SmithKline Beecham, as a prescription drug in 1991. The product was a success, climbing to the top of the prescription smoking-cessation market and winning a prestigious R&D 100 Award for 1992. By the mid-1990s, however, NicoDerm’s sales had flattened, and SmithKline decided that the product’s future lay in the over-the-counter drug market. The company received approval from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in mid-1996 to sell NicoDerm as an over-the-counter medication rather than by prescription only. Hoping to attract the broad base of American smokers who had either been unsuccessful in prior attempts to quit smoking or who were contemplating quitting for the first time, SmithKline hired the advertising agency Jordan, McGrath, Case, Taylor, New York to design its initial advertising blitz. The pharmaceutical company dedicated $35 million to advertise NicoDerm and in August 1996 launched a multimedia campaign featuring a barrage of print, radio, and television spots.
The campaign pitted NicoDerm most directly against its main competitor—Johnson & Johnson subsidiary McNeil Consumer Products Company’s Nicotrol, another transdermal nicotine replacement product. Both products vied for the vast market of smokers of either gender between the ages of 25 and 64. The two companies vigorously sought to win over consumers. SmithKline’s NicoDerm campaign consisted of two kinds of advertisements, one that focused on NicoDerm’s effectiveness and the other that favorably compared its product to Nicotrol. For example, the commercial ‘‘Morning Break’’ relates the fate of two office workers who both recently quit smoking. One used NicoDerm while the other tried to give up the habit ‘‘cold turkey.’’ The man who used the patch remains calm and collected, but his co-worker suffers from constant cravings, nervousness, and an inability to concentrate. Another spot, ‘‘Pharmacy,’’ shows NicoDerm spokesperson, Carolyn McCormick, explaining the differences between NicoDerm and Nicotrol. Because NicoDerm supplied three different dosages of nicotine patches and Nicotrol only one, she emphasizes that NicoDerm is the better product because it allows smokers to taper. Testimonial ads—which featured personal accounts of how NicoDerm had eased the difficulties in quitting smoking—were often used as well. All of the ads bore the same tag line, ‘‘The power to quit, the power to comfort, the power to quit successfully,’’ and were careful not to understate the difficulty of quitting. Instead, they emphasized that with NicoDerm it was possible to do so. The campaign was a resounding success. Marketing surveys discovered that consumers considered the ads highly effective. Backed by its ubiquitous commercials, NicoDerm quickly assumed a dominant position in the over-the-counter smoking-cessation aid market. By 1998 the product’s power had nearly forced Nicotrol to abandon the field. McNeil severely curtailed Nicotrol’s advertising budget and chose to refocus its promotional efforts on a new antismoking nasal spray available only with a prescription. SmithKline, on the other hand, intended to continue its broad-based advertising campaign in order to protect NicoDerm’s position in the field against encroachment by other antismoking products.
In 1991 SmithKline Beecham released its prescriptiononly nicotine patch, which was designed to be attached—rather like an adhesive bandage—to the skin of a person attempting to quit smoking. NicoDerm delivered a steady flow of nicotine, the highly addictive substance in tobacco, transdermally so that the ex-smoker did not experience the uncomfortable symptoms of nicotine withdrawal. The product came in three dosages: 21, 14, and 7 milligram patches. Heavy smokers began using the 21 milligram patch and, through the full ten weeks of the ‘‘three step’’ NicoDerm program, progressively decreased their dosage of nicotine until they were not only smokefree but also patch-free. Those who smoked less could begin the regime with the 14 milligram or 7 milligram patch. Although early sales for this prescription program were strong, demand for the patch tapered off by the mid-1990s, and its revenues plateaued. NicoDerm was, however, the clear leader in this sector of the prescription drug market.
In a major policy shift the FDA decided to approve nicotine replacement products for over-the-counter use in 1996. NicoDerm was the second patch to become available after this development, following McNeil Consumer Products’ Nicotrol. SmithKline’s own Nicorette, a nicotine-laced chewing gum that served the same end as the transdermal patches, also hit the over-the-counter market before NicoDerm. Although its chief competitor, Nicotrol, became available to consumers first, NicoDerm had the advantage of having controlled nearly 40 percent of the prescription market.
Analysts expected nicotine replacement therapies to sell well over the counter. ‘‘Once you eliminate the need to visit a doctor, sales will increase dramatically,’’ George Quesnelle, a SmithKline Beecham marketing executive, told the September 13, 1996, edition of USA Today. ‘‘The ability to walk into the local pharmacy and buy these products will make a world of difference.’’ Still, experts concurred that advertising would play a substantial role in determining which of the nicotine patch brands would win over smokers.
NicoDerm’s big-budget campaign had a wide audience to reach. Of the 48 million American smokers, nearly 16 million tried to give up smoking each year. According to Brandweek, NicoDerm’s ads especially targeted those smokers aged 25 to 64. Not all who tried NicoDerm were first-time quitters. The Centers for Disease Control declared that only 2 million of the 16 million people who attempted to kick the habit each year actually succeeded. Moreover, nearly a quarter of those who did had made up to five attempts at quitting. ‘‘The consumer has to have made a very important decision about his own health and welfare before he ever considers this kind of product,’’ a marketing analyst told USA Today.
Appealing to this target market could be a delicate task at times. Instead of creating slick ads that downplayed the enormity of the challenge facing the soon to be ex-smoker, Jordan, McGrath focused on relating to the concerns of its desired audience. Joe Martin, a senior brand equity manager for NicoDerm CQ, told the March 31, 1997, edition of USA Today that the ads wanted to reassure consumers that ‘‘it is difficult to quit smoking.’’ The commercials and print ads never trivialized the symptoms such as anxiety, restlessness, and withdrawal that might have been experienced by NicoDerm’s potential users during past attempts at quitting smoking. The campaign also strove to appeal to its target market by not being pejorative. Smokers had come to inhabit a world that increasingly condemned their habit. Not only were most smokers fully aware of the negative health risks associated with the vice, they were also constantly reminded of these by their doctors, spouses, co-workers, newspaper articles, and the antismoking commercials funded by some states. Jordan, McGrath realized that harping on this theme would not boost NicoDerm’s sales. ‘‘We aren’t here to preach the horrors of smoking; we’re here to advertise a product that is available to smokers once they’ve convinced themselves it’s time to quit,’’ Ilon Specht of Jordan, McGrath told USA Today.
Although the ads did not seek to impress the viewer like some of the more flashy campaigns for athletic shoes or cars, they did try to capture a certain earnestness in an attempt to win the trust of their audience. ‘‘A key motivating factor is for consumers to feel comfortable purchasing a product without a doctor’s prescription or advice,’’ said Don Stuart of the marketing-consulting firm Cannondale Associates. The ads did need to motivate viewers, though. Since so many people had unsuccessfully attempted to stop smoking in the past, the NicoDerm spots explicitly stated that their product, and theirs alone, could help end an ongoing struggle to become tobacco-free. Jordan, McGrath’s testimonial ads were designed to serve this purpose. The message conveyed in these was: ‘‘If I could do it, so can you.’’
The smoking-cessation aid market exploded after NicoDerm and Nicotrol began being sold over the counter in 1996. Total revenues for the industry in 1997 reached nearly $650 million, more than double the previous year’s volume. Analysts believed this expansion would continue. ‘‘I still see growth in the [smokingcessation aid] category,’’ Barbara Kuhn, a buyer for a major drug-store chain, told the October 6, 1997, edition of Drug Store News. ‘‘I don’t think it’s peaked yet, with more companies going to non-smoking policies and more public places being restricted.’’ On the strength of its 40 percent share of the prescription drug market at the time of its shift to over-the-counter status, coupled with a $50 million advertising blitz, NicoDerm surged to a commanding lead in the field. Its 1996 sales were more than $134 million, as compared to $52 million for its most direct competitor, Nicotrol.
Nicotrol, however, had no intention of remaining in second place and decided that advertising was its key to success. McNeil Consumer Products unleashed a fullscale advertising barrage on behalf of its brand, spending more than $53 million between March 1996 and March 1997 alone. Nicotrol was promoted via print, radio, and television spots, coupon offers, and brochures sent directly to doctors. The company bought air-time for commercials on such highly rated network television shows as ER. Some of these ads featured celebrities such as actress Patricia Kalember, who had appeared in the television shows Sisters and thirtysomething. Others were ‘‘reality-based’’ spots that tracked the progress of three Ann Arbor, Michigan, residents as they used Nicotrol to help themselves quit smoking. These testimonial commercials in particular proved to be quite popular with consumers. ‘‘We discovered that the best way to reach smokers who are ready to quit is to have other smokers talk to them,’’ McNeil Consumer Products spokesman Ron Schmid told The Detroit News.
Although Nicotrol was the only other transdermal patch available over the counter, NicoDerm faced competition from prescription smoking-cessation aids as well. In June 1997 pharmaceutical titan Glaxo Wellcome introduced an oral tablet designed to curb smokers’ cravings for nicotine. It supported this new product, called Zyban, with a strong direct-to-consumer marketing campaign. Novaritis’s Habitrol, which did not make the shift from prescription to over-the-counter status with NicoDerm and Nicotrol, remained a market player as well. Although its sales were relatively small compared to NicoDerm, the National Advertising Division of the Council of Better Business Bureaus (NAD) noted that the prescription/over-the-counter distinction ‘‘does not remove competition between [NicoDerm and Habitrol] or reduce Habitrol to bit player status.’’ Johnson & Johnson was also developing an antismoking nasal spray.
The increased competition had an impact on NicoDerm’s share of the market. By the second quarter of 1998 NicoDerm’s sales had dropped 18 percent, although sales of Nicorette, SmithKline Beecham’s nicotine gum, continued to rise. SmithKline’s NicoDerm, though, still enjoyed a substantial lead over its rivals.
The battle between the manufacturers of these smoking-cessation aids was heated. McNeil Consumer Products and Novaritis both filed complaints with the NAD, which served as a watchdog agency monitoring the accuracy of consumer advertising; the companies alleged that SmithKline Beecham had made misrepresentations in its advertising for NicoDerm. SmithKline filed two complaints against Nicotrol as well. The NAD sustained both of the complaints against NicoDerm and admonished to alter some of its ads. It rejected one of the complaints against McNeil Consumer Products but sustained the other, mandating changes in ad copy.SmithKline and McNeil also went to court over one of these disputes, eventually reaching a confidential settlement on the matter.
Because its target market—adult smokers between the ages of 25 and 64—was so broad, NicoDerm employed a range of strategies to appeal to its potential customers. It ran ads directed at narrow segments of the market, such as smoking couples who were thinking about having children. One commercial featured a young couple using NicoDerm to stop smoking before trying to get pregnant in order to have a healthier baby. SmithKline also secured an exclusive sponsorship deal with the American Cancer Society (ACS) in August 1996. In return for payments of at least $1 million per year in sales royalties over the three years of the arrangement, the ACS permitted NicoDerm packages to be emblazoned with the society’s logo as well as with a reference to the partnership between NicoDerm and the ACS for promoting the cessation of smoking. The company also sought to increase NicoDerm’s sales through its association with special television programming.
NicoDerm was a primary sponsor of New
Year’s-themed programming on the TBS, Nickelodeon, and Family Channel cable networks that ran on and around New Year’s Eve 1997. For example, NicoDerm’s sponsorship earned it very visible signs on stage during ‘‘Comedy Cure II,’’ a movie marathon on the TBS channel hosted by comedian Rodney Dangerfield. Whenever Dangerfield or other comedians performed, NicoDerm’s logo was prominently displayed. In addition, the product received further billing during the course of interviews with passers-by about their new year’s resolutions. As NicoDerm’s media manager Nancy Louvre explained to the December 16, 1996, edition of Adweek, ‘‘It made sense for us to partner with programming that would showcase our product. This is our most critical time of the year, and we’re very heavy in both TV and print ads with a New Year’s resolution theme.’’
Creating effective advertising was a challenge, however. A writer in USA Today remarked on September 13, 1996: ‘‘Glitzy ad campaigns, attractive coupon offers, scare tactics, and other tried-and-true marketing tactics that help sell other over-the-counter medications may not work with heavy smokers.’’ SmithKline decided that emphasis on a simple, straight-forward message was the best way to promote the product. ‘‘Smokers know the problem with smoking,’’ said George Quesnelle, a vicepresident of medical marketing and sales for SmithKline Beecham’s consumer-health unit, in the May 22, 1996, edition of The Wall Street Journal Europe. ‘‘You might say they’ve been beaten over the head by it. What they need to know is that [quitting] is possible.’’
Building on this message, Jordan, McGrath devised two classes of ads to increase NicoDerm’s sales. The first, termed ‘‘equity ads,’’ strove to strengthen the cachet of the NicoDerm brand, stressing that NicoDerm was a product capable of helping even the most addicted smoker break the habit. The second type of ad, dubbed ‘‘competitive ads,’’ focused on distinguishing NicoDerm most directly from Nicotrol but also from its other competitors.
It was these ads, with their specific claims about
NicoDerm in contrast to other smoking-cessation products, that gave rise to the complaints that Nicotrol and Novaritis filed with the NAD. While NicoDerm was forced to alter particular statements in two of its ads in response, it continued to employ ‘‘competitive ads’’ as a way of defending and increasing its share of the market. NicoDerm employed a saturation strategy for these ads across television, radio, and print media. On television NicoDerm sought to reach all segments of its target market. It advertised on soap operas and other daytime shows, early morning programming such as the Today show, late night chat shows, and even syndicated and cable television broadcasts. Although SmithKline did make the occasional ad-purchase on prime-time shows, the company felt that the cost of such slots generally outweighed the benefits they brought in return.
NicoDerm ads also ran frequently on an assortment of radio broadcasts. SmithKline liked radio spots because they were comparatively inexpensive, allowing the company to bombard listeners with information about NicoDerm. Additionally, SmithKline advertised heavily in large-circulation magazines, such as Life, Better Homes and Gardens, Sports Illustrated, Readers Digest, and U.S. News & World Report. The company’s goal for this multimedia approach was to reach the maximum possible number of consumers.
NicoDerm’s advertising campaign was a tremendous success. Despite the handicap of coming onto the over-thecounter market a month after its closest competitor, NicoDerm was backed by SmithKline’s marketing muscle and quickly established itself as the leading brand in the field. It continually refused to relinquish this position, even as other smoking-cessation aids came on the market or strove to challenge its supremacy. By mid-1998, in fact, Nicotrol had effectively ceded the patch field to NicoDerm. A health-care marketing consultant told the June 8, 1998, edition of Advertising Age: ‘‘There comes a time when you’re spending more than you’re selling, and you cut your losses.’’ McNeil slashed its advertising budget for Nicotrol and shifted its focus promoting a new antismoking inhaler available only by prescription. But NicoDerm’s drop in sales volume through the early part of 1998, coupled with the $15 million McNeil planned to spend advertising its new product, as well as Glaxo’s heavy spending on Zyban—
$20 million in the fourth quarter of 1997 alone—indicated that NicoDerm would need to continue to fight to maintain its primacy in the field.
Although the ads promoting NicoDerm were not particularly innovative or cutting edge, surveys demonstrated their value. USA Today ’s ‘‘Ad Track’’ poll on advertising success reported that only 14 percent of consumers gave NicoDerm’s ads high popularity marks. But more then 20 percent of the people exposed to NicoDerm commercials said the ads were effective, an impressive response level for the industry. Buoyed by feedback such as this, SmithKline planned to continue its multimedia campaign in order to support and expand NicoDerm’s share of the smoking-cessation aid market