Hoffman-La Roche Selects I-Frontier for Xenical Online Account

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Hoffman-La Roche last week selected Internet direct marketing and advertising shop i-frontier, New York, as its interactive agency of record to develop and manage its online campaigns for Xenical, or orlistat, the only prescription fat blocker approved by the Food and Drug Administration.


The news followed industry speculation regarding Roche's decision two weeks ago to remove the offline branding portion of the Xenical account, estimated at $80 million, from the Lowe Group, New York, following sales reported to be disappointing. At that time, industry watchers were uncertain as to how the account might be broken up and which agencies would win various portions of the business.


Xenical, the first approved product of its kind to block the absorption of fat, has seen its share of controversy. Published side effects of the drug include "gas or oil with discharge, increased bowel movements and an urgent need to have them [or] inability to control them."


But despite publicity challenges, Hoffman-La Roche, one of the world's largest healthcare companies, sees immediate benefits to continuing an aggressive pursuit of the drug's marketability, especially in the online world, where an effort to develop new awareness of the drug's availability has begun.


"Our selection of i-frontier was based on their unique ability to identify quickly online opportunities that support our overall brand strategy," said Dan Reinhardt, product director at Roche Laboratories, the U.S. pharmaceutical unit of Hoffman-La Roche, Nutley, NJ.


He said the company's traditional offline agency was doing some interactive work on the account, "but as the medium has grown, we've decided to change our strategy."


At i-frontier, an agency that also manages campaigns for HoopsTV, Coppertone and StarMedia, president Brad Aronson characterized the Xenical brand as "a high-profile product with excellent consumer reach and benefits." He said the agency would immediately communicate to consumers that "too many overweight individuals are not actively seeking weight management treatment because they don't understand the risks associated with diabetes, hypertension and high cholesterol."


Roche's Reinhardt noted that the company has launched its Xenicare initiative, an online campaign that provides links to additional weight loss strategies for consumers who take the drug.


According to Aronson, people should be targeted based on their mindset. "If they type 'weight loss' on a search engine or Web site, then they have self-selected themselves,. That's one of the areas where we are focusing." He said Xenical's Internet initiatives would provide the information and support consumers need and the clinical resources healthcare professionals require.


Aronson said the target market was middle-aged, overweight females.


I-frontier agreed to manage all online marketing and communications, media plans, strategy and development for Xenical, working with the drug company's internal creative team.


The new partnership has started with the development of an online campaign based on the education and motivation of significantly overweight consumers through branded and nonbranded creative efforts. The agency will also offer additional services to reinforce its Internet-based efforts, including strategic consulting on Xenical.com, Xenicaleducation.com and continued support of the XeniCare.com site.


Founded in 1996, i-frontier's other clients include Claritin, Discovery Channel and Discovery Health, Afrin, Star Trek Universe, AstraZeneca and Electronics Boutique. The agency typically competes against traditional agencies but has made a name for itself in the Internet, media and pharmacutical arena.
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