‘Swiss Army Drugs’ Present Challenges

Prescription drug marketers are embracing a staple of packaged goods marketing: the brand extension.

Having only been allowed to market to consumers since 1987, the drug industry tends to be a step behind its packaged goods brethren. Until recently, most pharma brands were simple to promote: Ambien puts you to sleep, Lipitor lowers cholesterol and so on.

Now a new class of so-called “Swiss Army Knife drugs” has emerged that treat an array of oft-unrelated ills. They include Centocor’s Remicade, Abbott Labs’ Humira, Pfizer’s Lyrica, Amgen’s Enbrel and Eli Lilly’s Cymbalta. The same pill can treat conditions as varied as depression or diabetic nerve pain.

The challenge is to advertise a single brand to multiple and completely separate patient groups. It’s an art that packaged goods companies mastered long ago: Mr. Clean washes floors as well as cars and Special K is both a cereal and a “protein water.”

With drugs, the job is harder because patients’ brand loyalties won’t transfer from disease to disease. So drug companies are developing campaigns that range from all-encompassing umbrella brand campaigns to strictly segmented and targeted efforts with minimal crossover. Some examples:

*Cymbalta is approved for depression, diabetic nerve pain and fibromylagia. Ads have so far focused on the former, with the theme, “Depression hurts.” The ads feature sobering, shadowy vignettes in which depressed people sit slumped in chairs, ignoring their surroundings, while family members look on in bewilderment. The company’s marketing team, led by Jacopo Leonardi, Lilly’s U.S. Cymbalta brand leader, is now figuring out how to add on messages for pain. “How do we best speak to them specifically?” is the issue, Leonardi said. “We