"It's easy to quit smoking," Mark Twain is said to have said. "I've done it a thousand times." Twain could joke about
the insidiousness of nicotine addiction more than a century ago, but lately society has lost its sense of humor about cigarette
smoking—along with its sympathy for smokers. They are casually dismissed as "slow suicides," their health problems shrugged
off as their just desserts.
The medical group (left): Cristina Russ, Larry Samuels, Doug Vanderburg, Deborah Petrowsky, Martina Flammer (group leader),
Anjan Chatterjee. The marketing group (right): Dina Klugman, Karen McDonald, Chris Hogan, Veronique Cardon (group leader),
James Humphries, Deborah Hamel, Amrish Luthra.
Smoking is the single most preventable cause of morbidity and mortality in the developed world. According to the Centers for
Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), an estimated 440,000 Americans die from smoking-related illness every year, and nearly
20 percent of the 44.6 million adult smokers have at least one serious smoking-related disease. All this adds up to an annual
$157 billion in economic losses.
So, even if Pfizer's Chantix (varenicline) did nothing more than help an estimated million or so smokers (so far) break their
addiction, it would be a strong contender for Pharmaceutical Executive's Brand of the Year. But, in fact, Pfizer's entire approach to branding the drug is itself worth admiring for several reasons:
Medicalizing smoking We live in an anti-tobacco time. Smoking bans are spreading, cigarette taxes are increasing, and health warnings grow more
graphic by the day. But in another sense, society has yet to get serious about smoking—it is still generally viewed as a lifestyle
choice, even a moral failure. Chantix is promoting a more enlightened, scientific view of smoking as a serious, difficult-to-treat
addiction—and spreading the word not only to smokers but also to physicians.
Focusing on the goal Drug companies are traditionally better at selling pills than at coordinating treatments—a fact that has done much to harm
the industry's reputation. For Chantix, Pfizer has addressed this issue with an intensive consumer-focused strategy—including
a 52-week program of patient education and support intended to maximize success rates.
Narrowing the focus Some of the recent public uproar over drug safety is due to the blockbuster model's focus on expanding the consumer pool.
If Vioxx, for example, had been used only by patients with severe arthritis and who had problems tolerating other pain meds,
it would probably still be on the market. Pfizer has taken a major step toward pharma's future by trying to limit the use
of Chantix to informed, motivated patients—and making information about the drug's limitations not just a disclaimer, but
an essential aspect of marketing.
If Gardasil, our Brand of the Year in 2007, was Merck at its best, Chantix is Pfizer at its best, restoring luster to its
reputation as a sophisticated marketer of consumer-oriented drugs. What's more, this first-in-class product is the first potential
blockbuster discovered in its own lab since Viagra. And Pfizer's fine-tuned launch, which focuses less on quantity of prescriptions
than on quality of treatment, is a strong sign that the firm is moving fast to embrace new branding and business models.
Best in brand launch