Merck and Schering-Plough are in the dumps following a blistering March 30 presentation at the annual cardiologist convention that slammed their $5B Vytorin and Zetia franchise. There are also charges that Merck and S-P delayed the results of a clinical trial that showed Vytorin and Zetia do not work to reduce plaque in the arteries.
The beleaguered drug partners obviously need a quick dose of positive PR to regain their balance. Here is a slam-dunk (thanks to former CIA Director George Tenet) solution free of charge. Deepak Khanna, general manager of the Merck/S-P venture, should hold a press conference ASAP to reassure the public that no matter what happens those insufferable Vytorin ads will never once again pollute TV screens across the U.S. That would provide an immediate boost to the reputations of Merck and S-P. They would be hailed as corporate titans that care for the sensibilities of Americans.
The $100M Vytorin campaign compared various cholesterol-ladened foodstuffs with “aunts” and “uncles” to make the point that heredity is one of the keys to determine cholesterol problems. That stain on advertising was suspended in January, but Merck and S-P are discussing when to resume direct-to-consumer advertising. Some friendly advice: keep the Vytorin ads in the can.
Over-the-top prescription drug ads have fueled much of the consumer and government backlash that is aimed at the pharmaceutical sector.
No less than Hal Riney, one of adland's creative geniuses, was a harsh critic of Rx ads. Riney was responsible for classic campaigns for Ronald Reagan (“Morning Again”), E. & J. Gallo (Bartles & James wine coolers) and General Motors (Saturn launch).
He died last week at the age of 75, but not before he telling Adweek that he didn’t like today’s advertising. “The never-ending prescription drug ads drive me crazy,” he said.
The San Francisco ad guy was certainly referring to Vytorin. Millions of TV watchers agree with Hal. Merck and S-P should get the message.