Global Brief: Drugs mega merger signals new era for agencies - The dollars 90bn Pfizer merger has coincided with a drug ads burst

Usually when two companies like Pfizer and Warner-Lambert merge, the first question is: which one will come out on top? But in the case of these two drug giants, the answer is already clear. Pfizer’s chairman, William Steere, will head the new conglomerate. The new group will be run out of Pfizer’s headquarters in New York and it will be called Pfizer.

Usually when two companies like Pfizer and Warner-Lambert merge,

the first question is: which one will come out on top? But in the case

of these two drug giants, the answer is already clear. Pfizer’s

chairman, William Steere, will head the new conglomerate. The new group

will be run out of Pfizer’s headquarters in New York and it will be

called Pfizer.



Not much argument there.



The next question - for the advertising industry at least - is how the

new regime feels about agencies.



At this early stage - the ink is not yet dry on the dollars 90 billion

deal - official word is that it is ’too soon to tell’.



That said, however, there will be some clues for those who look.



After the merger, the new Pfizer, valued at a cool dollars 140 billion,

will own seven so-called blockbuster drugs - each with sales above

dollars 1 billion - including Pfizer’s high-profile anti-impotence drug,

Viagra, and Warner-Lambert’s cholesterol-lowering preparation, Lipitol.

Added to this are a collection of over-the-counter brands, such as

Pfizer’s TCP range and Warner-Lambert’s Schick razors, Trident gum,

Listerine mouthwash and Certs.



Historically, Warner-Lambert has kept most of its advertising, where

possible, to two networks - Bates Worldwide and J. Walter Thompson.

Pfizer, too, has had its favourites. For example, it has used the

healthcare specialists, Cline Davis & Man in New York and Paling Walters

Targis in London, for Viagra. But - and this is the key - observers have

noticed a change in tack at Pfizer in recent months.



The reason is the phenomenal growth of a new type of campaign in America

- advertising prescription-only drugs direct to the patient.



It began as an experiment just over two years ago, when the Federal

Drugs Authority relaxed its rules to allow drugs companies to advertise

prescription-only medications for the first time. It went on to be a

raging success.



During those two years, drugs companies dug into their pockets for nigh

on dollars 2 billion in extra media spend as they sought to find out

what this new-found freedom could do for them.



Unsurprisingly, what they found was increased sales, lots of them. Even

better, it brought about a revolution in thinking at drugs

companies.



Suddenly, their market was not a few harassed doctors who were too busy

to watch TV, but every man, woman and child in the country.



Pfizer responded by putting its popular anti-allergy treatment, Zyrtec,

out for review. Not to a bunch of little-known healthcare specialists,

but to the likes of McCann-Erickson, Ogilvy & Mather, and the eventual

winner, Deutsch. It followed by tossing the next big drug in its

pipeline - the migraine preparation, Relpax - to D’Arcy, another

mainstream agency.



Prescription-only advertising is still illegal over here, of course.



But its forerunner, so-called symptom-advertising, is alive and

well.



Symptom advertising is where commercials raise awareness about a

condition so that consumers realise it is treatable with drugs. Without

mentioning names, the ad then directs them to see their doctors.



Following profitable exercises for Novartis and Pharmacia & Upjohn,

Procter & Gamble is looking to publicise osteoporosis, while Pfizer is

on the lookout for an agency to do the same for Viagra (Campaign, last

week). One thing is clear, Pfizer is looking for a multinational,

mainstream agency. The question is, will Bates and JWT be on the

shortlist?



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