Terra Sigillata

Direct-to-consumer drug advertising is an unusual art form, even for those who consider advertising to be art.

So why is Abe Lincoln in the kitchen with a talking beaver and a chessboard??

This imagery is the latest in the fight among prescription sleep-aids, brought to you in this case by Rozerem (ramelteon, Takeda).

John Mack’s Pharma Marketing Blog first took on this unusual ad campaign over the summer, but it was this morning’s Wall Street Journal piece (subscription req’d, but I’ll quote heavily) by Brian Steinberg that got my attention since he attempted to answer the question, “Why?” Steinberg most recently wrote on other areas of science in marketing with his coverage of the fake biotech firm, NEXTgencode, in support of Michael Crichton’s upcoming new novel.

Most ads for prescription drugs offer relatively straightforward depictions of people enjoying life thanks to their use of the pharmaceutical product being advertised. Not so with the spot for Rozerem, a sleeping medication made by the North American unit of Japan’s Takeda Pharmaceutical: The former president and the rodent are supposed to symbolize dreams for a man who can’t sleep.

On the air since July, the TV commercial has captured attention on Madison Avenue, where some executives suggest it may be too convoluted to work. The image of a beaver sitting next to Lincoln may distract viewers from grasping Rozerem’s marketing message, they say.

The overworked image of a restless sleeper, sheep, or butterflies wasn’t going to cut it either:

In this case, Takeda is contending with a particularly difficult competitive situation. Rozerem, introduced to the market in July 2005, is up against better-known and longer established prescription sleeping drugs, including Sepracor’s Lunesta and Sanofi-Aventis’s Ambien.

“We decided collectively that taking this brand down the typical route was going to actually hurt its chances for success,” says Marshall Ross, chief creative officer for Cramer-Krasselt [Takeda's Chicago-based ad firm].

But the viewer has to work for the goods:

Still, Takeda acknowledges that its own research shows that consumers needed to see the ad six to nine times “to fully digest” the spot and what is taking place in it.

The general idea is that the odd topics are the stuff of which dreams are made and, therefore, restful sleep would represent a return to dreaming. So, there.

Then again, the ad is surreal and different enough that it has caught the eye of bloggers and the media such that it has almost developed cult status. The typically clinical and bland website for Rozerem is actually quite fun and engaging, with a special features section with a Dream Dictionary that describes the symbolism of specific dream topics.

The beaver? According to the website, “beavers symbolize ambition and industriousness. It’ll take hard work to achieve your goals.” Hmm…who knew?

So, even though it challenges the viewer, how is the ad campaign working?

Rozerem’s monthly sales have increased to $10.5 million in October from $6.31 million in July, when the ad went on the air, according to Wolters Kluwer Health.

Note to Coturnix: if you click on the beaver at the website, there is a rudimentary description of circadian rhythms and the biological clock.

Note added in proof: If you do a Technorati search for “beaver,” you will be prompted, as expected, to refine your search for all of the vulgar colloquialisms for the term. But, to speak further toward to advertising genius of this campaign, the first sponsored link at the top of the page is…for Rozerem.

Comments

  1. #1 Orac
    November 27, 2006

    Yeah, the first time I saw the ad, my reaction was, WTF?

    However, after seeing it again multiple times, I now marvel at its cleverness. I also marvel that the company dared to make an ad that for most people requires more than one viewing to “get” the message.

  2. #2 coturnix
    November 27, 2006

    That is a nifty ad. Is it still running? I don’t watch TV so I never saw it before. Clever.

    OT: any thoughts on this?

  3. #3 T. Bruce McNeely
    November 27, 2006

    When I saw the ad, I wondered about some political symbolism: Abe Lincoln = USA, beaver = Canada, chess game = trade negotiations about cheap Canadian prescriptions? But what’s with the diver?

  4. #4 Doc Bushwell
    November 28, 2006

    Heh. Yeah, I read John Mack’s take on the ad in the summer. Yes, the ramelteon campaign is clever and surreal, but it’s nonetheless insidious DTC pharma advertising. Oh for the good old days when the pharma companies just slapped up centerfolds in JAMA and actually funneled a little more money into R&D. Not that I’m bitter about sales and marketing or anything like that.

  5. #5 Abel Pharmboy
    November 28, 2006

    Doc B, yeah, if only they could shift a dollar or two over to you folks to buy a new set of pipetmen or something…or maybe create a beaver that can actually run biochemical screening assays. Now that would be a good use of DTC marketing dollars!

  6. #6 Doc Bushwell
    November 28, 2006

    .or maybe create a beaver that can actually run biochemical screening assays.

    Oh, we already have plate* monkeys to do that!

    *96-, 384- and 1536-wells mostly. They’ll do microarrays, too, but only after much hooting and throwing of feces.

  7. #7 Leo
    January 19, 2007

    WASHINGTON Stung by reports of widespread problems with Medicare’s new prescription-drug program, the nation’s top health care official said Tuesday that the government is on the case and counseled seniors: “Don’t leave the pharmacy without your drugs.” WBR LeoP

  8. #8 Leo
    January 20, 2007

    WASHINGTON Stung by reports of widespread problems with Medicare’s new prescription-drug program, the nation’s top health care official said Tuesday that the government is on the case and counseled seniors: “Don’t leave the pharmacy without your drugs.” WBR LeoP

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