Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Lunesta Moth Being Mothballed as a Result of Negative Marketing ROI

Photo by Max Talbot-Minkin. The original photo is here.

The Lunesta moth
-- shown above in an out-take from a TV ad -- is being mothballed!

The new Lunesta sleep-aid medication TV ad that aired on NBC Nightly News last night did not focus on the moth flitting from house to house in the dead of night. In fact, I don't even remember the moth being there at all! Perhaps, despite its pleasing and soothing green color, the moth was too frightening? I don't know about you, but I emphasize with the guy in the above photo. Who can fall asleep with a moth flitting around your room. The flapping of wings would drive me nuts, not to mention the eerie glow!

The new ad may be the last hurrah of the McCann agency, which is being replaced by Kaplan Thaler -- the folks that brought us the ill-fated Jarvik Lipitor ads. This is a big coup for Kaplan -- Sepracor, the company that markets Lunesta, spent $246.4 million on Lunesta direct-to-consumer (DTC) ads in the first 9 months of 2007 (I got this number from the March 2008 issue of DTC Perspectives magazine, which gets its data from Nielsen Monitor-Plus). That's way more than the next highest big spender -- Ambien CR -- which spent $130.6 million in the same period (see the nice graph in a previous post: "Lunesta's Ad Spending Spree and Other DTC Oddities"). NOTE: These numbers do not include ad agency or production fees!

Any way, the new ad did not have much of a role for the loony moth because it focused more on being awake and alert during the day than being asleep at night. And there's no place for a moth in daylight.

The ad basically showed a woman getting up after a restful night's sleep and being very chipper during the day as a school teacher, willing and able to take on her third-grade kids and encourage them to make music with kitchen utensils.

The ad's tag line is "A great tomorrow starts tonight." I'm happy to see that the Lunesta Web site is in sync with the TV ad. The site still shows the moth in the intro screen -- but only briefly flying across the screen before a dissolve to an image of a woman sitting up in bed in broad daylight, ready to take on the world. [Where I am, daylight savings time means getting up while it's still VERY dark out there!]

There's also a link to the "new" TV ad on the site, but (1) it doesn't work for me using either my Firefox or IE browser, and (2) it doesn't look like the ad I saw last night on TV. Maybe they are having some technical difficulties switching video files. Hey, Sepracor guys! Aren't you glad I'm beta testing your product Web site?

Why would an agency that will soon be replaced come up with a new ad at this time? DTC Perspectives claims that "sales of Lunesta, estimated at roughly $600 million in 2007, apparently did not meet company expectations."

Let's do the math
In 2007, Sepracor spent about $27.3 million per month on DTC advertising for Lunesta -- I assume this includes TV, print, radio, billboards, Internet ads, etc. but not search engine marketing (which would only be about 1-2% of the total DTC spend in any case, so let's ignore that). In addition, it must have spent three times that -- or about $82 million per month -- on detailing and physician marketing, which on average, is about 3X DTC, not including the wholesale cost of samples given to physicians. But, let's be conservative and say that the Lunesta physician promo budget in 2007 was only 2X the DTC budget or $54 million per month.

Do you see where this is going?

Negative marketing ROI and stock price
The total Lunesta marketing budget, therefore, may be $81 million per month or $972 million per year! If sales were only $600 million, then YEAH, Sepracor should be a tad disappointed! And if I held Sepracor stock I'd be a tad disappointed also. Negative ROI is directly related to Sepracor's negative stock price growth (see chart below). QED and say good-bye to the moth as it is incinerated in the flame of creative ad agencies.

P.S. As much as I like DTC Perspectives and other pharmaceutical industry trade publications, I must say -- "with all due respect" -- they are a bit remiss in not doing this kind of analysis. Yes, they report the numbers, but it seems that only people like me have the inclination to calculate the relation between 9 months of DTC ad spend shown in a table on page 10 and the yearly sales number hidden in a paragraph on page 6! I just assume everyone would think to check the Sepracor stock price and see if there were any relation to marketing ROI.


  1. For the curious, here's 2 pieces of sample Lunesta online creative from our ad archive -

    Lunesta online ads

    And, after a long hiatus, Pfizer's Celebrex is back with a new online campaign, too:

    Celebrex online ads


  2. "search engine marketing which would only be about 1-2% of the total DTC spend"

    Am I the only one who finds this insane? Why is SEM such a TINY fraction of the total spend? Considering that when consumers are performing a search, they are actively looking for something in contrast to advertising on the nightly news (why not the late news when people are thinking about going to bed?) when the vast majority or viewers are tuning out the ad all together.

  3. Hi Scott!

    Jumping here from Twitter, eh?

    I wish I had 2% of $5 billion! What's that, $100 million? Then thar's a lot of Adwords!

  4. Anonymous1:10 PM

    Reported spending on DTC is always about 40% more than the company actually spends on media. So you are starting with a flawed spending analysis. It is also incorrect to assume detailing for Lunesta is higher than DTC because this brand is more consumer pull driven than many pharma brands.

    This lack of insider spending knowledge is why we do not attempt to calculate external ROI analyses.

  5. Bib,

    Thanks for your comment.

    Let's try the new math. Let's say the "real" media spend on DTC was $20 million per month in 2007. I am not willing to give up the assumption that physician promotion is not 2X this when, on average, pharma is spending about $12 billion on physician promotion vs. $5 billion on DTC. I've seen some of the lavish exhibits that Rozerem has at medical meetings and I'm sure Lunesta has to keep up.

    So $20 million per month on DTC plus $40 million on physician promo gives $60 million per month or $720 million per year, which is still higher than $600 million in sales.

    Whatever the numbers, I think we agree that Lunesta is not doing well considering all the $ spent on the promotion!

    Maybe the Sepracor stock traders know something we don't.

  6. Anonymous4:08 PM

    Another example of advertisers and agencies entralled with creative that has been a colossal waste of money. The same for Rozarem.

    The pacakge goods industry learned a long time ago that awareness has a weak relationship to purchase behavior and advertising affects are short-term or they don't happening at all. The pharma ad "experts" continue to fritter money away, injuring the industry's reputation for the flagrant spending. Some day we'll learn, but we're still in the naive phase, wasting millions and pissing off regulators, payers and patients. When are we going to learn how advertising works and operate more responsibly!!

  7. Anonymous5:35 PM

    Sepracor and lost market share -- market Rx's up 10.7% while Lunesta was on up 5.7%, and flat for NRx's. Face value says they were not seeing revenue growth to justify the massive ad spending. Nothing in any data that Sepracor published in its 2007 earnings report could be remotely construed as positive advertising effect. Before Vioxx blew up, it was the largest spender in the industry and had a 10% Rx decline.

    The positive case studies in pharma have been few and far between. Massive DTC has a low probability of success in this industry. Let's stop glorifying losing advertising investments like Lunesta and Rozarem.

  8. Anonymous3:17 AM

    You really think it's the Moth in the commercial that's the problem?


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