Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Rozerem DTC Ads: New Paradigm or Paradox?

I love Pharmaceutical Executive Magazine! I especially like it when they quote me as they did in this month's (June 2007) issue. You'll find me quoted in the article "A Dream Campaign: Takeda's Rozerem ads aren't just fun. They're a new paradigm for insomnia treatment." The article was written by George Koroneos, Associate Editor at Pharmaceutical Executive.

I'm sure many of you have seen the article and read my quotes there. No doubt you also said something like "Wow! This guy knows his stuff!" or "He calls it like he sees it!" or "I wish I could have said that!"

I'll get to my quotes later, but, first, let's analyze the article's title, which makes two claims:
  1. The ads are fun, and
  2. The ads are a new paradigm
OK. I admit the ads ARE fun. I certainly had fun mocking them over the past year (see, for example, "Rozerem Ads Dis Lincoln, Show Beaver"). But I'm not one of those guys like Mel Sokotch who the article quotes as saying "Abe and a muskrat are not in line with what this industry is about."

News flash! It's not a muskrat, it's a beaver! You can tell the difference by looking at the tail: "Although [muskrats] resemble beavers, they are much smaller and lack beavers' distinctive flat leathery tails, having instead thinner tails." (Wikipedia!)

Drugs ARE serious and funny ads may not be appropriate for some drugs. I cannot imagine, for exampe, a funny ad for Gardasil. But for insomnia -- which is a condition that has long been the butt of jokes -- I think it's OK to have funny or fun ads.

But more important than whether the ads are fun or not is whether they are effective, which brings us to the "new paradigm" claim.

New paradigm for what? The subtitle says "paradigm for insomnia treatment." In other words, the ads are a new paradigm (ie, model) for making viewers fall asleep!

Editorial faux pas, yes, but now I finally get what Takeda is trying to do with its direct-to-consumer (DTC) Rozerem ad campaign: make us fall asleep, which is something Rozerem itself may not do too well, if you look at the sales data presented in the article.

The article quotes these sales figures from IMS Health:
"For the first quarter of 2007, [Rozerem] has earned $28.1 million, outpacing Sonata in the total sleep aid category, but far below what Lunesta ($181 million) or Ambien ($653 million) brought in during the same time period."
Let's assume Sonata's sales were $25 millon for the period. If we add up all the sales for all 4 drugs and plot the percentage of each drug's sales in a pie chart, here's what we get:

In other words, sales of Rozerem account for only 3% of the total sales racked up by these 4 drugs in Q1 2007! Keep in mind that this does not represent the complete market for sleep aid medications. If other drugs used to treat insomnia were included, Rozerem's share would be much less than 3%. Whatever the actual number -- which MUST be less than 3% no matter what! -- this is a dismal showing for a TOP-ten DTC spender!
Yes, Rozerem is #10 ($118 million) on the 2006 list of DTC spends for Rx products. Lunesta and Ambien CR are #1 and #2, respectively ($329 million and $207 million). During the first quarter of 2007, Takeda spent at an even higher rate: more than $40 million (see "Rozerem Ad Spending Exceeds Sales!").
The Slow Build Defense
The PharmExec article quotes me as saying "While the company is doing a slow buildup, the sales are doing a slow burn." I still stand by that even though Chris Benecchi -- product director for Rozerem marketing -- "claims that the slow build was the plan all along."

Puh-leez! You claim that market share is low because Takeda was a good little pharma company and held off running its DTC campaign for 1-year after launch. Given that, how does a "slow build" make any sense?

As I was quoted in the article, "I've never heard of such a thing in pharmaceutical marketing."

It's a Horse Race, NumNuts!
Consider this analogy: You're a horse. You're in a race. You have trouble at the gate and get off to a slow start. Your jockey holds you back, sticking to the original plan for a "slow build." It's only a quarter-mile race! You don't have time for the slow build! But your jockey is in charge. You lose the race!

  • Horse = Rozerem
  • Race = Recuperation of investment and profits before patent expiry
  • Jockey = Guess who!
Jockeys can make mistakes, but what galls me are all the articles written in trade publications and the press (e.g., "Am I Dreaming, or Is This a Rozerem Ad?") touting how great the Rozerem campaign is and all the accolades heaped upon the agencies involved (see "Takeda - Fire These Guys!"). No one with any pharma industry publishing authority is admitting that the emperor has no clothes. Why is that?
Who Pays the Piper?
I notice that the issue of Pharmaceutical Executive Magazine in which the Rozerem article appears includes a supplement entitled "Agency Confidential." Guess which agency spent a fortune to place a 2-page ad spanning the inside cover and first page of that supplement? Yep. AbelsonTaylor (AT), the main agency responsible for Abe and the Beav and the "slow build."

I suspect that publications that claim to offer useful advice to pharmaceutical executives must tread carefully lest they lose big agency advertisers. They certainly cannot come right out and say that AT or Takeda has no clothes! Not directly. At least Pharmaceutical Executive included sales figures in its article if anyone cared to look at them like I did.
Meanwhile, Rozerem is the laughing stock of pharmaceutical marketers, some of whom, Koroneos said, "liberally made snide (but mostly off-the-record) comments about the campaign" at a recent DTC Perspectives conference in Washington, DC.

Perhaps this is just a case of "beaver envy" as Koroneos quips, but I don't think so! All you have to do is look at the numbers. They're right there in the article!


  1. Hello John Mack,

    Very informative post.

  2. Anonymous10:45 AM

    Let's give the agency 100 points for creativity; the ads are wonderful at break through. Unfortunately the ads do not properly differentiate Rozerem from competing meds and do nothing to position Rozerem at all, unless Rozerem is the insomnia medication for those that want to have very vivid dreams.

  3. Why stop there? Give 'em a thousand points for creativity!

    What is this, Cannes? Are they vying for an Oscar, or Emmy, or whatever award agencies win for creativity?

  4. Anonymous3:10 PM

    I've just seen this. It seems someone else doesn't like the beaver, either.


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