Novartis bets $200M in ads on OTC Prevacid

Novartis is plotting a major advertising campaign to support the launch of its over-the-counter heartburn med Prevacid 24HR. Major as in $200 million worth, the Wall Street Journal reports.

The campaign kicks off with TV spots that start airing tomorrow, and it's designed to aid CEO Daniel Vasella's diversification push. To augment its branded prescription drugs, Novartis has been aiming to grow its generics arm, Sandoz; its eye-care business, with the purchase of a minority stake in Alcon; and its OTC drugs unit. Thus the big-time support for this new drug in the already crowded--yet extremely lucrative--heartburn category.

Here's what Prevacid 24HR is up against: Prilosec OTC, a Procter & Gamble product, plus store-brand versions of that drug. Prescription Prevacid, which is sold by Takeda Pharmaceuticals, to the tune of $3.1 billion last year. And an impending host of Prevacid generics, including one from Teva Pharmaceutical Industries, just cleared by FDA and due for launch today.

Nonetheless, Novartis says its goal is to make Prevacid 24HR one of the top five OTC brands in the U.S. And its strategy doesn't involve competing on price, but on its ability to persuade heartburn sufferers that Prevacid will do a better job of making their lives easier. Hence the enormous ad campaign. We'll have to wait and see whether the commercials do the trick.

- see the WSJ story
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