Pfizer's professional campaign, featuring the image of a giant broken cigarette, had to break through this resistance. The
sales force had go-slow orders, initially detailing only to the highest-prescribing primary-care physicians. For doctors too
busy to coach their patients, Get Quit was a safety net. Theone thing reps did not offer was a single free sample—a first
for Pfizer, according to Flammer—so as not to lower the motivational bar. Because Pfizer backs the PhRMA Code's six-month
moratorium on consumer advertising for newly marketed drugs, Chantix DTC wasn't set to debut until December 2006. In the end,
though, Pfizer delayed its consumer blitz until late September 2007; the company depended on PR, a series of unbranded ads,
and Get Quit to spark interest. The results exceeded Pfizer's projections, with $168 million in revenue in the first half
With McCann HumanCare, the agency that also handles Viagra DTC, Pfizer rolled out a $75 million tortoise-and-hare-themed campaign
in print, TV, online, and out-of-home, tagged "On the road to quitting, it's all about getting there." The campaign has attracted
criticism for its cutie-patootie imagery. But the ads were among the year's most-recalled and clearly defied the anti-smoking
"We chose to use the fable of the tortoise and the hare because...the imagery resonated strongly with smokers," said Pfizer
PR's Jeanne Traflet. "People described them as engaging and inspiring. They also said the message of a steady, determined
approach to quitting smoking was realistic."
Cheaper Than Cigarettes
Pfizer honcho Ian Read crowed to the Wall Street Journal last year that Chantix was "the company's fastest launch ever," outpacing even Viagra. He may have been exaggerating just
a bit. After all, the rollout was geared to a slow, steady uptake of motivated consumers. But even with the soft launch, in
just 18 months, 4.5 million, or 10 percent, of US smokers have already taken the three-month course.
This is major mojo, given that only one-fourth of managed care organizations (MCOs) reimburse or even discount smoking-cessation
products. Payers have had little incentive to shell out for products whose long-term quit rates are in the single digits.
Medicare Part D is more generous, covering prescription aids and some counseling.
If the Chantix pill-and-plan program works as well in the real world as in clinical trials, Pfizer may get Chantix on formularies
by arguing that it is the first truly effective treatment. "The success rate is encouraging to MCOs," said Cardon. And the
rates of Get Quit enrollees are even 25 percent higher.
Paying out of pocket for a drug may be the best screening device for attracting motivated consumers. Pfizer set the US price
at $3.24 a day (two tablets)—cheaper than a pack of cigarettes. A full treatment course is 12 weeks; consumers who reach that
goal without relapsing are advised to play it safe by going another 12 weeks.
"It's the difference between putting money into making yourself sick or putting money into making yourself healthy," said
Pfizer marketing director Terri O'Gorman.
Chantix pulled in $603 million in sales through the third quarter of 2007, and it looked to be on track to hit the billion-dollar
mark this year, ahead of most analysts' predictions. And given the high prevalence of smokers in emerging markets worldwide,
Pfizer was justified in thinking on a megablockbuster scale. You could almost see that giant hole that will be left by Lipitor's
patent loss begin to fill up with cash.
And then this dream scenario turned into a drugmaker's worst nightmare.