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Case 3: The launch of Viagra
”Viagra” is a true pharmaceutical success story. It has become one of the most talked
about and well-known drugs in recent years. It has been described as one of the most
successful launches ever, surpassing Lipitor as the drug recording the highest number
of new prescriptions in the first week. Following its launch success, Viagra went on to
top US$1 billion in global sales in the first full calendar year post-launch, thus earning
”blockbuster” status. What, then, can we learn from its success?
The success of Viagra
In the Year of its launch, Viagra became Pfizer`s (www.pfizer.com) numberfive drug in terms of global sales. In 1999 and 2000 it held the number –four position
for Pfizer, with global sales reaching US$ 1.34 billion in 2000. It is currently ranked
in the top 30 blockbuster drugs, with more than 30 million prescriptions having been
written for more than 10 million men worldwide. Table C8.1 outlines the drug’s sales
history to date and predicts that, by 2005, global sales will have topped the US$2
billion mark.
Table C8.1 Global sales for Viagra (US$ billions)
Year
1998
1999
2000
2001
2005
Viagra
788
1033
1344
1600*
2150*
*estimates
But was the success of Viagra down to the marketing strategy and internal
strengths of Pfizer, or did the media attention given to this lifestyle drug guarantee its
success?
Pfizer Inc.
Following its merge with Warner-Lambert to form Pfizer inc. Pfizer is now
ranked as second largest pharmaceutical company in the world behind Merck & Co.
The merged company now employs approximately 85,000 people globally, and has
one of the largest sales forces in the industry. In 2000, the company achieved total
sales of US$29.6 billion, an increase of 8 percent over the previous year. Largely
because of its size, the company outperforms all other pharmaceutical companies in
terms of R&D expenditure. In 2000, Pfizer spent a total of US$ 4.4 billion in drug
testing and development; witch was an increase of 9.9 percent over the previous year.
With these resources behind it, Pfizer Inc. is also committed to extensive
advertising as a means of driving demand. Of the top 100 advertising companies in
the USA, ranked by spend for all forms of media, Pfizer is fourth. Behind General
Motors, P&P and Phillip Morris. A total of US$2.14 billion was spent in 1999 on
advertising. Pfizer is streets ahead of the other major pharmaceutical companies, with
the next company, Bristol MyersSquibb, ranked thirtieth, and Lilly is not included in
the top 100.
A ”blockbuster” drug is generally defined as a product that satisfies the following four criteria:

the drug must represent significant improvements in drug therapy

it must drive the growth of or even create, top-teen pharmaceutical companies

it should form a top rank of products with exceptional sales

last, but by no means least, it should generate global sales of at least US$ 1 billion.
Cardiovascular products generate almost half of the company’s income. The
company’s top-selling drug is the cardiovascular product, Lipitor (Atorvastatin). This
had global sales in excess of US$5 billion in 2000. It is predicted that this will remain
the case for some time to come.
In 2000, Pfizer had the largest number of blockbuster drugs in the industry, with a
total of seven, generating combined sale of US$ 15.6 billion. At least 65 percent of
the company’s total sales derived from these seven drugs (according to Datamonitor,
2000). The US patent for Viagra expires in 2011.However, before that, patents for
four of the current seven drugs will expire.
Viagra is Pfizer`s first ”lifestyle” drug. The phrase ”lifestyle” has been imposed
by the media on certain drug types. By definition, “lifestyle” drugs generally treat
diseases associated with the signs of ageing rather than life-threatening conditions
(Exceptions being obesity and depression, which can be considered life-threatening in
certain circumstances).
The market for Viagra
Viagra was a revolutionary treatment for male impotence or erectile
dysfunction (ED). Previous treatments included invasive injections, and were seen to
inhibit ”normal” sexual activity. The market for impotence treatment is complicated
by the fact that this was a taboo topic and sufferers tended not to admit to the
condition. Vargas main differentiating factor is that it is the first treatment to be taken
orally. Given its benefits over other treatments, Viagra was seen to define the market.
Since its launch in 1998, there have been no new entrants, allowing Pfizer to
capitalize on its strong position.
The US pharmaceutical market is the largest in the world. In 200, the market
contributed a total of 28 percent of all drug sales worldwide, and 60 percent of the
total blockbuster market. Approval was gained from the FDA for Viagra in March
1998, and the product was launched just two weeks later. Due to difficulties
encountered by a competitor’s product, Vasomax, Pfizer achieved first-to-market
status. It has been suggested that the opportunities afforded to the company as a result
of being first to market with an orally administrated treatment for ED were more due
to good fortune than anything else.
The media attention given to the drug pre- and post-launch was enormous.
There were testimonies from a number of high-profile celebrities including Playboy
chief Hugh Hefner and chat-show host Jerry Springer. With concern over the growing
status of Viagra as a miracle drug, Pfizer made a conscious decision to undermine
this.
As early as May 1998, stories linking Viagra to a number of deaths were
published. Pfizer responded by issuing a ”Dear Doctor” letter through the FDA
website, reiterating a point that when administered with organic nitrates the drug can
result in large and sudden drops in blood pressure. In September 1998, a consumer
advertisement campaign was launched, six months after physician education and
awareness development began. The company initially advertised heavily in women’s
magazines in order to promote treatment-seeking behaviour.
With only an estimated 5 percent of all men suffering from some from of ED,
Pfizer committed itself to a vast promotional spend in the early years. In 1998, total
spend was US$ 102 million, amounting to 14 percent of Pfizer`s total budget. In 1999
it grew further to US$ 125 million. The direct-to-consumer (DIC) campaign began in
earnest in early 1999 and, over the course of the year, US$ 52 million was spent on
promoting the drug to the consumer in the first six months of 2000. DTC advertising
expenditure increased further to a total of US$ 43 million (according t5o Competitive
Media Reporting). The marketing campaign surrounding the launch was the largest in
the history of pharmaceuticals, involving both DTC advertising and extensive training
of the salesforce. It deployed its salesforce of 5400, the largest in the industry,
pushing free samples.
Pfizer chose to conduct such a massive DTC campaign in spite of the large
amount of free publicity it was receiving in the press. This decision was taken as a
means of managing the messages that were being portrayed. Additionally, Pfizer used
a 70-centre, six patient per centre clinical trial as a pre-marketing awareness study.
According to prevention’s Survey of Consumer Reactions to DTC advertising,
approximately 33 percent of consumers who saw the DTC advertisements in the
campaign subsequently spoke to their doctor about medicine. Advertising proved to
be a key driver of demand and market growth. Approximately two-thirds of Viagra
prescriptions written in its first two months on the market were for men who had
never before sought treatment; By June 1999 Viagra was the clear choice in the ED
market and prescribed in over 90 percent of ED cases.
Year on Year, Pfizer continues to increase its levels of DTC spending. In
2002, the company plans to spend a total of US$ 92 million promoting.
Oppgave 1.
Evaluer miksen av markedskommunikasjonselementer (promotion mix) som ble
benyttet ved lanseringen av Viagra. Du skal både ta stilling til miksen av
markeskommunikasjonselementer som sådan og hvordan markedskommunikasjon er
integrert med andre marketing-mix elementer.
Oppgave 2.
I Norge kan ikke Pfizer på grunn av lovgivningen benytte samme ekstensive
markedskommunikasjon slik de kan gjøre i f. eks USA. Dersom du skulle lansere
dette produktet i Norge, Hvordan ville du da kommunisert med markedet og relevante
målgrupper?
Under arbeidet med caset skal verken importøren eller forhandlere av Viagra
kontaktes av studentene.
Dette caset er hentet fra Jobber, David og John Fahy (2003), Foundations of Marketing, Mcgraw-Hill education,
Berkshire;England. Referanser og kilder finnes i den originale casteksten.