Start Serious, Become Bolder

Jun 01, 2011

Not only would NicVAX be a first in market, it would create a whole new category in some untested waters—a vaccination against an addiction that some may view as a choice, a bad habit.


Barry Schmader, EVP, Chief Creative Officer | Dudnyk
Of course, it's a bad habit that kills people and drains the healthcare system of millions of dollars each year in associated costs, so it's tangen-tially related to a disease-preventing vaccine. But it's also a new kind of therapy concept, one step removed from a traditional vaccine, and it will take some time before patients, payers, and professionals understand and accept it

There will be criticism along the lines of "what's next, an alcohol vaccine so kids don't drink?" as there was concern that an HPV vaccine could possibly encourage a feeling of immunity that might lead to unprotected sex and/or promiscuity among young people.

Promote the nicotine vaccine carefully and creatively, building a ramp-up of marketing assertiveness. Spokes-people are tailor-made for helping to launch and accelerate this process, and celebrities, for the most part, are universally accepted in this role.

Take lessons from very smart choices made throughout other first-in-market success stories. Launch accordingly with a serious message to the tune of "smoking causes cancer, but this vaccine will help you really quit and prevent that eventuality."

The early Viagra launch in the US used Bob Dole as a spokesperson, easing the country into the idea of talking about ED on TV. Pfizer marketing wisely took a serious tone, and for reasons mostly having to do with Managed Care, connected Viagra directly to ED caused by a disease: prostate cancer. Since Senator Dole had prostate surgery, the focus of the message was on postsurgical therapy aimed at making him whole. Positioning of the product has developed into something else, more about getting ready for a randy weekend than about recovering from cancer surgery. But Pfizer, with the help of Bob Dole, paved the way for an entirely new discussion in medicine. That would have to happen with NicVAX, too. Establish a serious tone, then get bolder as acceptance grows and resistance fades.

In the vaccine space, Merck's Gardasil launch likewise prepared the way for approaching sensitive topics. This time it used spokespeople patients to tell the story, in a serious tone, about the importance of vaccinating young people for HPV to prevent cancer.

Strategically depend on healthcare coverage. If the vaccine would require patients to pay out-of-pocket, a stronger consumer push is needed. We'd get Denis Leary as our spokesperson. Do some comparisons showing the cost of cigarettes over a year vs. the cost of the vaccine. Offer vaccine couponing on every carton of smokes. But if coverage could be obtained for health and preventative reasons, that would be the positioning at launch, and you'd be more successful using a more serious tone. Perhaps we'd make an appeal by using real-life children of smokers. That kind of campaign could build a patient base with an emotional appeal to ask your doctor, and create a public service anti-smoking halo for the brand.

Wait before promoting vaccination with adolescents. Perhaps after a year or two, you can begin to expand use in various markets, but first you have to build a foundation of professionals to advocate and support the discussion.