NEW YORK -- Sometimes marketers can do almost everything right to launch a product, but it still doesn't catch on.
That apparently is the case with Rozerem, an insomnia drug from Takeda. In the sleep-drug category, which is known for advertising clichés like white-coated doctors and happily sleeping couples, Takeda took a chance on an eye-catching campaign featuring Abe Lincoln and a beaver.
The company also took a creative approach to its media buy, tapping alternatives like coffee sleeves and airplane seat trays. Moreover, it waited a year after the drug's approval to start consumer advertising so doctors would be familiar with the drug.
But seven months into the Rozerem campaign the results are mixed, to put it mildly. The brand is a distant sixth in its category, with a 2.4% share behind two unadvertised generics and the category's titans: Ambien (36.8% for Ambien, 17.5% for Ambien CR) and Lunesta (12.3%), per IMS Health.
Worse, Takeda may have spent more on ads than the drug made back in sales: between January and September 2006, Rozerem earned $48.7 million in estimated wholesale revenue, according to IMS Health (that number does not include prescriptions handled by mail). But the company has spent nearly $100 million on ads, per Nielsen Monitor-Plus.
Along with the loss of two senior marketing executives, the numbers may not have been what the company was expecting. Two factors may be to blame: In the year Rozerem waited to enter the market, others came in and stole its thunder; and sources say Rozerem's performance leaves something to be desired.
Derek Lowe, a drug research scientist who asked that his employer, a major drug company, not be identified, said other drug companies may see Rozerem's example and decide not to accede to the drug industry's voluntary code to wait to run ads until doctors are fully educated about the drug.
"The pressures are going to be very strong to breach that," he said. "It wouldn't surprise me at all if that principle gets thrown overboard."
Takeda execs, however, say they are happy with their results.
"The steady growth we have seen since launch is exactly what we expected," said Paul Boidy, Takeda's director of neuroscience marketing. Boidy said he has also ordered up new ads using the same surreal theme as the first round. (In the previous ads, Lincoln and a beaver are two figures from the dreams of an insomniac in the ad. The tagline is, "Your dreams miss you.") That work, from Cramer-Krasselt in Chicago, is set to break late this month or early in February, according to the agency.
Still, Rozerem's measly share is something of a surprise. When the company got Food and Drug Administration approvals in July 2005, the drug appeared to be a winner: It had far fewer safety warnings than any other sleep drug on the market and, unlike Ambien or Lunesta, has no addiction risks.
Shortly after the approval, however, the drug industry announced the voluntary effort to wait on DTC ads. Takeda told Brandweek in October 2005 that it would not advertise Rozerem until July 2006. In that period, Sanofi and Sepracor put hundreds of millions of dollars behind their previously launched insomnia brands, Ambien CR and Lunesta.
Marshall Ross, C-K's chief creative officer, noted Ambien's years-long dominance: "In electronics they call it an 'installed base.' They had a huge number of patients and doctors used to that drug and how it works."
Knowing that the marketplace was already crowded, and that it would be outspent by Sanofi and Sepracor, the company asked C-K and its medical-professional agency, AbelsonTaylor in Chicago, for ideas that were specifically different from other types of drug advertising, Ross said.
"They had no first-mover advantage," he said. "They would be dwarfed by others in the category."
Ross was particularly unimpressed with the advertising of Ambien and Lunesta, both of whom use images of happy sleepers. "That 'morning moment,' drapes flung open and the person greets the day with enthusiasm. That's how we all wake up, right?" he said, sarcastically.
So C-K seized on an unexploited bit of data: In focus groups, insomniacs described how they missed dreaming. The agency tested several concepts around that idea.
"None of them had the guy in the white coat," Ross said. "None of the ideas were, 'Here's the safe way into the marketplace.' There was no safe way for these guys."
Though the ads were creative, they neglected to promote a key selling point for Rozerem—that it's considered safer than other sleep drugs.
There's some evidence that Takeda felt forced to spend more on ads than it believed it would at the launch. At the time of the debut, Sanofi-Aventis had spent $43 million and Sepracor spent $76 million. Takeda said its budget would be more modest. "We don't think there's a need to spend multiple hundreds of millions of dollars in a year" to reach the target audience, then-director of neuroscience marketing Tim Rudolphi said at the time.
Rudolphi and svp-marketing Rich Daly left last year, both joining TAP Pharmaceuticals. Boidy, who had been on the brand since the prelaunch phase, took over in the summer of 2006. Neither Daly nor Rudolphi returned messages for comment.
But Takeda's embrace of creativity was not enough to overcome Ambien and Lunesta's leads. Last fall, a rival exec, Jean-Luc Pilon, director of consumer marketing for Ambien at Sanofi-Aventis, reportedly made a presentation at a drug conference that showed Takeda's ads had made virtually no difference in Rozerem's sales.
Neither the ads nor the waiting period may be to blame, though. One source with intimate knowledge of the insomnia business said that although Rozerem helps you fall asleep, it's not very good at keeping you asleep for the rest of the night—and insomniacs often find themselves wide awake at 3 and 4 a.m. Said the source: "The data for Rozerem is just not very impressive. In particular, it's just not indicated for sleep maintenance."
via Technology Marketing