Zenith Optimedia

IT WAS A WAKE-UP CALL for one of the most popular prescription sleep aids. For the first time since it went on the market, Ambien would be facing new competitors, and its maker, Sanofi-Aventis needed a promotional media plan aimed at maintaining its share of sales.

The competitor, Sepracor’s Lunesta, was planning to spend some $200 million on a media marketing blitz. So Sanofi-Aventis turned to its media agency, Zenith Optimedia and the planning team overseeing the account: John Potenzano, group media director; Rita Shroff, communications planning supervisor; Adriana Zermeno, communications planner; and Tamara Rabi, assistant communications planner. About 20 people at Optimedia worked on the creation and implementation of the plan.

The Optimedia unit came up with a plan that eventually cost $100 million, half of what its new competitor spent, which enabled Ambien to maintain the lion’s share of the sleep aid market—45 percent—while meeting the client’s goal of converting Ambien’s base brand to Ambien CR (a new, time-released formula launched in fourth quarter 2005), and exceeding new prescription sales goals by 47 percent.

Research by the group found that there are certain times of the day and week when sleep is an issue, and when consumers might be more open to ad messages. “Our goal was to reach prospective users at key touchpoints throughout the day,” Zermeno says. Those key times were early morning, when people have had a restless night; late night, when they are actually having trouble sleeping; Sunday night/Monday morning, just before the start of a work week; holidays, when stress keeps people up at night; and clock-change time, when the media gives extra attention to insomnia issues. The plan also targeted business travelers who experience time-zone changes.

Morning news shows made perfect sense for the early morning touchpoint. Ambien signed on to sponsor eight live concerts on ABC’s Good Morning America, with on-air promos during the week leading up to each concert. Ambien was also the title sponsor of the Ambien Summer Concert Series on CBS’ The Early Show, along with promos, billboards and commercials in every pod during the concert telecast.

Monday became the day most likely to see an Ambien ad on TV. To reach people who lose sleep Sunday night, the Optimedia team ran a heavy concentration of Ambien commercials during the “morning papers” segment in NewsNight with Aaron Brown on CNN on Monday nights. Ambien also sponsored the Business Travel Advisory segment every Monday on CNN and sponsored the prime-time movie each Sunday and Monday night on Lifetime.

Near the end of daylight savings time in October, Ambien sponsored a CBS Healthwatch feature about clock change and sleep awareness. On Court TV’s Saturday Night Solution, Ambien integrated vignettes, tune-ins and billboards. Spots were run on MSNBC’s Countdown to the Clock Change, and sleep awareness billboards aired on Nickelodeon’s Nick at Nite.

During fourth quarter 2005, Ambien targeted those who become stressed out from holiday activity. The sleeping aid sponsored Lifetimetv.com’s fourth quarter 2005 “Holiday De-stress” minisite, which featured music, aromatherapy, yoga, games and astrology. On-air promos on Lifetime TV drove viewers to the site. Commercials ran on Lifetime, and Ambien also sponsored Court TV’s New Year’s Day marathon.

To target the business traveler, Ambien was the exclusive sponsor of the Weather Channel’s First Outlook for business, global and local weather updates, which included commercials and billboards. Ambien also sponsored a show highlighting points of interest to business travelers on the Travel Channel Business Class, sponsored the travel tips billboards during the Today show on NBC, and sponsored a business travel advisory each Monday morning on the CNN Airport Network.

James Bennett, associate director, national TV and radio investments at Optimedia, said putting together this year-long media package meant a lot of discussions with dozens of networks on what was available. With a general plan mapped out, Bennett made upfront holds by network and daypart, then more discussions were held on specific programming and sponsorships before the deals were locked in.

Because pharmaceutical advertising is regulated by the government, legal teams had to determine what was permissible and what was not. “The negotiation process [to put the entire plan together] took about three months,” Bennett says.

Some of the pieces, like the morning show concert series, already existed, although previously each concert had different sponsors. The new media plan had Ambien as the sponsor of all the concerts on the shows.

Every deal included 15- and 60-second commercial spots, but each one also went beyond just ads. “Everything had value added, like sponsorships, billboards, Internet,” Bennett says.

The campaign has concluded, but Ambien continues to meet its user-conversion goals to Ambien CR. However, the challenge isn’t over. “Two more companies will be releasing products, and that will force us to be even smarter with our next campaign,” Zermano says. “The second half of this year will be an interesting time for both our agency and the brand.”

John Consoli is a senior editor for Mediaweek.