Friday, April 28, 2006

Lunesta: Golden or Bitter Pill?

The results are in! Lunesta wins both the DTC National
Gold Award as well as Prescription Access Litigation (PAL) Project's "While You were Sleeping" Bitter Pill Award! (For more on these awards, see "DTC National Advertising Awards Winners" and "The While You Were Sleeping Award: For Overmarketing Insomnia Medications to Anyone who's ever had a Bad Night's Sleep").

Guess which one Lunesta marketing director Jay Popli and McCann-Erickson (the Lunesta ad agency) general manager Andrew Schirmer will hang on their walls?

I wasn't at the DTC National Award Dinner -- me getting a press pass for that event is about as easy as a camel passing through the eye of a needle -- but I was invited to PAL's online Bitter Pill awards press conference.

These two organizations square off against each other viz-a-viz competing drug ad awards every year.

PAL claims to represent consumers in class action lawsuits against pharmaceutical companies and targets deceptive marketing. It is against any DTC advertising -- including 60-second TV ads -- that do not include the full product labeling (see "
FDA DTC Hearings Day 2").

DTC Prespectives Magazine, which hosts the DTC National Awards, is an industry publication whose very existence obviously completely depends on DTC advertising.

These two organizations could not be further apart on the DTC advocacy spectrum. Both agree, however, that Lunesta deserves an award -- isn't that nice?

According to PAL, Lunesta had more than $321 million in sales in 2005 and Sepracor spent more than $215 million advertising it that year, making it #2 in direct to consumer advertising for all prescription drugs (PAL cites credible sources for these data).

I guess you could call that a positive return on investment: for every dollar spent on advertising, Lunesta made $1.49. It's a bit less, however, than the $1.68, estimated for DTC in general (see "
eDetailing ROI Better than DTC?"). Keep in mind that it's only the first year the product is on the market and the competition for market share is fierce. "Its sales in 2006," notes PAL, "are expected to increase significantly as the aggressive marketing begins to really pay off."

PAL levels several criticisms of the Lunesta ad campaign including the allegation that Sepracor is violating the PhRMA DTC Guiding Principles by running reminder ads. I have also pointed this out recently (see "
Sepracor Sneaks In Lunesta Reminder Ad"). Either PAL is confirming my observation or else they are just picking up what I posted without attribution to me. I didn't bother to ask them what evidence they had to back up their claim.

What Chutzpah!

Given that some Lunesta ads are in violation of at least one of PhRMA's DTC guidelines, I find it strange that attendees of the DTC National conference would have the
chutzpah to give Lunesta marketers a Gold Award at a conference in which "Critical Issue #1" was "What is the future of DTC marketing? Are you ready for the new rules -- from FDA -- from Congress? The PhRMA guiding principles?" Not only that, but representatives from the FDA, PhRMA, and Public Citizen -- Ralph Nader was an invited speaker/panel member -- were also in attendance!

Tell me, Ralph, did you find any irony in this?


  1. Anonymous9:35 AM

    Thanks for attending our Bitter Pill Awards presentation, and for noting the irony of Lunesta winning both our award and the DTC National award.

    You wondered aloud in this entry whether we had seen the Lunesta reminder ad independently, or rather were "just picking up what I posted without attribution to me."

    I did in fact see it independently of your blog entry (Saturday, April 22, 12:54 PM, WCVB Channel 5 in Boston, to be precise). When I went to see if anyone had written anything about the fact that Lunesta had violated the PhRMA principles by running a reminder ad (Google search for "lunesta reminder ad") you'll be pleased to know that your Pharma Marketing Blog entry on the subject was the first thing that came up.

  2. Anonymous8:22 AM

    The PhRMA guidelines were to be implimented in '06. Lunesta :15s ended in '05.

    Ambien :15s ran in '06.


  3. Yes, interesting that you neglect to mention the Lunesta reminder ads are still running -- see Wake Up PhRMA! or Tilting at Windmills where I list at least 3 dates and times the ads have appeared in 2006 (as recently as Mat 2, 2006, in fact).

    I bet you are a Lunesta marketer, right? I haven't seen the Ambien ads you are talking about, but if they were run, why don't you complain to PhRMA? Of course, you cannot do that and remain anonymous as you can do here!

  4. Anonymous9:51 AM

    Lunesta sucks. Word of mouth is going to kill the drug. No ROI analysis can account for that fact. People aren't just bothered by the morning after taste, they're horrified. John, did you notice in the wikipedia article (the only thing I could find that you entered there was the link to your blog entry) the section with recommendations about how to deal with the bad breath? Looks like someone from Sepracor; "just drink some orange juice, you'll be fine.." (I'm paraphrasing). And NO I don't work for any of the competitors.

  5. Anonymous4:01 AM

    Ok, look, aside from the morning after being like a I've had a few beers before going to bed (cat shit in my mouth, groggy for a while), I am waking up like I should. Unfortunately, it doesn't matter what time I went to bed. It's severely screwing up my ability to sleep in on weekends.

    I dunno, guys ... I don't like taking pills, anyway. But, it's supposed to be helping sleep. Nevermind I took mine at 10PM tonight and it's 4AM. It's making coherent. And it's making me get up for work.

    On second though, yeah, maybe that's not enough. *shrug*


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