Merck Seeks Shop for $40 Mil.-Plus Singulair Biz

Four New York-based shops are vying for ad duties on Singulair, an asthma drug marketed by Merck & Co. Sources identified the contenders as McCann-Erickson Worldwide, J. Walter Thompson, DDB Worldwide and FCB Worldwide, which handles creative and media planning for the brand.

Media spending on the brand has exploded in the past two years, from less than $1 million in 1998 to more than $40 million in the first 10 months of 2000, according to Competitive Media Reporting. As part of the brief, the shops were asked to deve lop a budget for 2001, sources said.

Both creative and media planning duties are up for grabs. TN Media does media buying for all Merck brands. The search is in its latter stages, with a decision expected by month’s end, and sources said some shops have already pitched. The agencies declined comment.

It was unclear at press time what triggered the review. The Whitehouse Station, N.J.-based client did not return calls.

FCB’s most recent TV work for Singulair showed how the once-a-day tablet can help adults and children lead everyday lives.

One spot, which touts a cherry-flavored chewable tablet, shows a young boy playing with a model airplane and his dog, “Max.” Another features a 20-something schoolteacher who says, “I might have asthma, but I also have a life.” Each spot emphasizes that Singulair is not a steroid and should not be used to treat acute asthma. Both end with a phone number and the tagline, “Asthma control that can help you breathe easier.”

Each contender has a fair amount of experience in the pharmaceutical category. Besides Singulair, FCB works on two other Merck drugs: Fosamax (osteoporosis) and Varivax (chicken pox). McCann handles SmithKline Beecham’s Paxil (social anxiety) in the U.S. and Pfizer’s Viagra (impotence) in Europe.

Merck arthritis drug Vioxx is at DDB, which also recently [Adweek, Jan. 15] added a new anticholesterol drug that will be co-marketed by Schering-Plough and Merck. JWT used to work on Pfizer’s Zantac, but that account shifted last year [Adweek, Nov. 20, 2000] to Bates USA, here.