NEW YORK, February 18—Ogilvy Public Relations Worldwide has beaten out a handful of the largest healthcare public relations firms in the country to represent vardenafil, an impotence drug manufactured by Bayer AG and marketed in partnership with Glaxo SmithKline. The account, one of the largest in the pharmaceutical sector, is believed to be worth in excess of $5 million.
When vardenafil—currently in the final clinical trials—receives FDA approval this fall, Ogilvy will take on not only Pfizer’s best-selling Viagra—represented by Porter Novelli International—but also Cialis, another newcomer from Eli Lilly & Co. and its biotechnology partner Icos Corporation. Cialis will be represented by Manning Selvage & Lee.
On the advertising front, Pfizer is represented by Cline Davis & Mann, which recently launched a new campaign pitching the drug to younger men. Pfizer spends about $108 million annually, making Viagra the third most heavily advertised drug in the nation, according to figures from IMS Health. The FCB HealthCare division of Foote Cone & Belding Worldwide, was named the agency of record for Cialis in October of last year.
According to Bayer Pharmaceuticals director of corporate communications Ellena Friedman, Ogilvy beat out four other firms, including incumbent Fleishman-Hillard, Chandler Chicco Agency, Cohn & Wolfe, and Ketchum. Edelman Public Relations Worldwide was involved in the early stages, but dropped out because of a conflict.
“It was the team that impressed us,” says Friedman. “Everyone down to the account executives. They were able to come up with a very creative platform. They brought is a lot of good thinking that covered all the dimensions of the RFP.”
Ogilvy chief executive Bob Seltzer said he was excited about the business not only because of the size of the account but also because of the role PR will play. “They asked us to help define the brand personality, which doesn’t happen very often in a PR-only pitch. This is a category that is going to be driven by marketing, and we are looking forward to helping Bayer and Glaxo Smithkline win the marketing battle.”
The Ogilvy team will be led by healthcare practice managing director Kym White, and will support Bayer and GSK in reaching both consumers and physicians.
“It’s a dynamic marketplace and we will be pursuing the marketplace aggressively,” said Friedman, who declined to comment on Bayer’s budget for vardenafil. “Ogilvy will be one part of our strategy.”
The marketing battle is expected to be as fierce as any in the pharmaceutical industry. Viagra’s sales totaled $1.3 billion last year and are projected to rise to $1.6 billion this year, and drug-industry executives estimate that 30 million American men suffer from some degree of erectile dysfunction—about one-third of whom have tried Viagra. On the other hand, about 50 percent of men who take Viagra don’t renew their prescriptions.
Cialis and vardenafil act in same way as Viagra, blocking an enzyme called phosphodiesterase-5, or PDE-5, in the process relaxing smooth muscle cells in the penis and increasing blood flow to the penis. But although they work in similar ways, the three drugs are different chemical entities. Some urologists say vardenafil and Cialis are more effective at blocking the enzyme and hence potentially more potent. They may also interact with fewer other molecules and hence might have fewer side effects.
“We feel there’s a tremendous opportunity in this market,” says Mark Barbato, team leader for development of Cialis. “There are a lot of men that have not yet received one of these drugs.”
But Pfizer believes Viagra has several advantages, not least of which is its status as an American icon, the brand having entered into the popular culture. In addition, the company has conducted more than 80 studies of Viagra, according to Michael Widlitz, a vice president at Pfizer. “No competitor can hope to ascend this mountain of efficacy and safety data.”