Pfizer has hired an advertising agency to begin pitching its anti-smoking drug, Chantix, to consumers. The drug giant will work with McCann HumanCare to launch direct-to-consumer advertising for the smoking-cessation drug and its GetQuit support program.
In financial reports and analyst presentations, company executives have made it clear that the success of the drug depends on their ability to portray smoking as a "chronic, relapsing medical condition"--an illness that requires pharmaceutical intervention--rather than a weakness of character. This four-word phrase will be key to getting physicians to prescribe additional courses of Chantix (varenicline) when they don't see immediate results and in helping to garner insurance reimbursement for a drug still largely seen as a lifestyle product. It's a message that is also designed to help motivate the large "cold-turkey market" to consider using a prescription drug to cure their addiction.
A spokesperson at McCann referred all calls to Pfizer. A Pfizer representative could not be reached for comment. Yet it is fair to say that Chantix's launch will involve heavy consumer and physician education to not only drive awareness of the product but to change the understanding of nicotine addiction.
Pfizer will also promote its GetQuit behavioral support program. The program, which patients can join for free with a 12-week prescription, includes a step-by-step guide to quitting, a personalized Web site, regular phone call or e-mail check-ins, and a cravings hotline. It also helps physicians counsel patients on how to quit.
Billings for the account were not disclosed. Chantix earned a modest $101 million last year, but Pfizer counts the drug as one of the products that will contribute significant revenue to its bottom line. Chantix is currently priced for a cash market, but Pfizer has been relentless in pitching managed care plans with the message that higher smoking rates among young people could eventually lead to higher medical costs down the line.
Pfizer's marketing team has been feverishly working to unveil new campaigns for its key growth drivers after the high-profile failure of HDL-raising drug torcetrapib. The company spent $2.6 billion on advertising last year, compared with $2.7 billion in both 2005 and 2004. Executives are paring down the company's sales force and looking for new ways to reach consumer and physician audiences, but it remains to be seen how much Pfizer's advertising budget will change this year.