Chantix scored a clean sweep. In one 1,025-volunteer study, 44 percent of the subjects taking Chantix were not smoking after
12 weeks, compared with 29.5 percent on Zyban and 18 percent on placebo. After a year, these rates fell by about half: 22
percent, 16 percent, and 8.4 percent, respectively. (A second, nearly identical study got nearly identical results.) In a
third study, 1,900 smokers in seven countries were given Chantix for 12 weeks, at which point 65 percent were tobacco-free.
These 1,236 quitters were then followed for another 12 weeks, half on Chantix and half on placebo. At the 24-week mark, 70.5
percent of those on Chantix were still not smoking, compared with 49.6 percent of the placebo group.
"The research was very robust," said Andrea King, an associate professor of psychiatry at the University of Chicago who played
no role in the studies.
Best in brand resilience
FDA fast-tracked the drug and approved it in May 2006—the first new anti-smoking drug in a decade. With Edelman handling the
PR, word spread quickly. By the first week of July, the Journal of the American Medical Association had reported Chantix trial results and the Wall Street Journal had run a front-page story. Pharma blogger John Mack praised the strategy as a "case study in [how] pharmaceutical marketers
[can] build their brands using public relations followed by advertising." In addition, Mack wrote, "it's not all positive
news, which makes it even more credible."
The negative news consisted mainly of pointing out that the trial results might inflate the drug's real-world effectiveness,
because the volunteers were all "highly motivated"—and excluded people with a history of depression or substance abuse. What
critics missed was that Pfizer was aiming to maximize the real-world effectiveness of Chantix by ensuring that consumers use
it in almost clinical trial–like way.
A Pill and a Plan
The decision to brand Chantix as "a Pill and a Plan" was the brainchild of Marketing Team Group Leader Veronique Cardon. The
launch had to establish credibility with skeptical patients and doctors by promoting a realistic understanding of nicotine
addiction—and of "treatment" as requiring not just the drug but the hard work of behavior change. Even pre-approval, an unbranded
Consider Quitting print and online campaign identified consumers who were highly motivated—and most likely to succeed on the
drug. A 52-week online program called Get Quit—complete with patient ed, e-mail check-ins, phone support, even a personal
coach—went live before the first script was written.
Best in brand comeback
The last thing Pfizer needed was to sell a lot of Chantix in a short period to people hoping for miracles. "It was important
to shape patient expectations," Cardon said. "The message had to be: 'You are taking a medication that is powerful and will
help you stop smoking, but you also have to work hard to make behavior changes. And there will be bumps in the road.'"
Doctors can be a tougher audience. "Healthcare practitioners' attitude has become, 'I have no empathy and no time for you
if you smoke. And if you ask, I will make you feel very guilty for smoking,'" said Cardon. "The patient, of course, shuts