Pfizer, Merck go for indirect ads

The new trend in drug marketing isn't drug marketing at all. New commercials from Pfizer and Sanofi-Aventis, plus what can only be called a "jewelry campaign" from Merck, show that pharma companies are again turning to disease awareness to sell their products.

Pfizer unveiled a new "My Time to Quit" commercial during the Olympics, which encouraged people to quit smoking, but didn't mention the company's stop-smoking med Chantix at all. By leaving out the drug's name, the drugmaker also got to leave out that unwieldy recitation of side effects that can eat up 20 seconds or more. Instead, the ad sent viewers to mytimetoquit.com, a site that links to a Chantix website.

Likewise, Sanofi-Aventis' latest marketing ploy for insomnia med Ambien involves a 15-second ad and an annoying rooster. The commercials refer viewers to silenceyourrooster.com, a site that promotes the drug. The idea seems to be working, traffic-wise: The site got 400,000 hits in the commercial's first seven days on the air.

Meanwhile, Merck has been promoting Gardasil via its Charm4Life campaign women's magazines. The ads promote "limited edition" bangle bracelets (pictured here) designed by the jewelry company Alex and Ani (magazine ad). Pay $32 for four of them, and the proceeds will go to the Prevent Cancer Foundation. The charm4life.com website, where women can order the bracelets, offers information about the human papilloma virus that can cause cervical cancer. "Talk to your doctor," the site suggests. "Or find out more for yourself right now." The "find out more" is hyperlinked to a Gardasil website.

Why the sudden turn to awareness campaigns? Some experts theorize that it's the intense scrutiny Congress has been offering product-oriented ads. But others wonder whether the awareness approach might backfire, attracting the very critique they may be designed to prevent.

- read the Wall Street Journal article
- see the story at CNBC
- check out the Pharmalot item

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