Tamiflu Strategy May Walk Fine Line

It’s hard to escape the daily barrage of bird flu mentions in the media these days, culminating with last week’s ABC TV movie Fatal Contact: Bird Flu in America, a worst-case dramatization of the pandemic hitting the U.S.

In the coming months, Hoffmann- La Roche will take on the issue as it advertises its prescription drug Tamiflu, which is one of only a handful of drugs proven effective against bird flu.

The Nutley, N.J., client this week is expected to award its $30 million account to independent GSW in Columbus, Ohio, after a review that included Publicis Groupe’s The Kaplan Thaler Group, Interpublic Group’s Foote Cone & Belding, and independent shops Avenue A/Razorfish and Digitas, all New York, sources said.

The client wants to persuade consumers to have Tamiflu on hand to take at the first sign of symptoms, sources said. But healthcare PR experts said any campaign must walk a fine line, alerting consumers to the dangers of the disease without sounding exploitative.

“An honest, transparent communication from the scientists at Hoffmann-La Roche backed up by the CDC is the magic bullet for this one,” offered Alfred O’Neill, an svp with Ryan TrueHealth, Wilton, Conn., a direct-marketing healthcare agency. “Making the drug or the company a hero would alienate all the audiences they have to worry about, especially the government and Wall Street, let alone the population.”

Media dollars behind Tamiflu have all but disappeared since 2000-01, when the client spent $30 million and $20 million, respectively, per TNS Media Intelligence. Since then, spending has hovered at $5 million or less. Sources estimated the coming spend at $30 million.