Schering-Plough Sends Seasonal Message to Claritin Users

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Schering-Plough's Claritin continues to up the ante in its direct mail packages to customers with with more elaborate relationship marketing efforts. The 1999 FallManac package, a 6-inches-by-10-inches windowed envelope festooned with red maple leaves and acorns, includes an eight-page brochure with tips, recipes and descriptions of fall activities such as apple picking and wine tasting tours.


The package was mailed early this month on the heels of its September Apple Picking postcard with the simple message, "Remember to refill your Claritin." In addition to the brochure, the FallManac package includes a rebate coupon, which is a common element of the allergy drug's marketing; product information sheets; and an insert from the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America.


Throughout the brochure copy, customers are reminded about drug compliance, a thorny issue for most pharmaceutical marketers, with messages such as "You don't have to skip one apple-picking moment if you're taking your Claritin regularly."


Direct-to-consumer mail advertising across the Claritin franchise - Claritin, Claritin-D 12-Hour, Claritin-D 24-Hour, Claritin Syrup and Claritin Redi-tabs - is handled by Commonhealth Direct, a joint venture agency of Commonhealth, Parsippany, NJ, and RTC Direct, Washington. The direct mail is aggressive and continuous to Claritin's database of customers in order to maintain and reinforce relationships.


Allergy drugs are big business in the burgeoning pharmaceutical marketing arena. Spending overall on oral antihistamines, or allergy prescription medication such as Claritin, Zyrtec and Allegra, increased by 612 percent from 1993 to 1998, according to a recent study by the National Institute for Health Care Management Research and Education Foundation, Washington.


The Claritin franchise continues to be the leader not just among allergy medications but in overall prescription drug advertising spending. Claritin advertising for the first six months of 1999 was measured at $99 million, outspending Pfizer's Zyrtec and Hoechst Marion Roussel's Allegra, according to IMS Health, Plymouth Meeting, PA, and Competitive Media Reporting, New York. That level of spending also pays off in terms of prescriptions written. Claritin has remained the market leader in this area in the past six years.


Current spending on Claritin reflects a desire to maintain its No. 1 status as the allergy medication competition continues to heat up. "Claritin itself for Schering Plough is a model for marketing success," said Sena P. Lund, analyst at Mehta Partners, New York. "Other marketers who compete with Claritin are putting more and more effort towards DTC marketing, and Schering-Plough wants to hold onto its position."


A Claritin summer mailing included a 12-page brochure that posed the question, "What do you look for in the things you choose?" It suggested answers such as reliability, staying power and choice and drew a comparison chart of product attributes positioning Claritin over Hoechst Marion Roussel's Allegra. Allegra also uses a comparison checklist that measures the drug against Claritin with characteristics such as price and availability in capsule form.


An area of concern looming in Claritin's future that also might contribute to its jacked-up marketing push is patent expiration, with its various loratadine-related patents owned and licensed to Schering Plough expected to expire within the next several years: the loratadine compound patent in the United States expires in 2002. The compound patent for desloratadine, an active metabolite of loratadine, expires in 2004; a fluoroloratadine patent expires 2008; and the formulation patent for Claritin-D 24-hour expires in 2012. In addition, Schering has licensed sepracor desloratadine patent rights covering a use of the active loratadine metabolite, which expires 2014.


"There's a big debate about the patent on Claritin. There are concerns about them holding the patent in the U.S. after 2002," Lund said. Once the market is open to generic versions, Claritin's ability to maintain market share will be ever more challenging. However, the company continues to develop new versions.


"We are developing and expect to market worldwide a desloratadine-based antihistamine that will be separate and distinct from loratadine," said a spokesman. "It's in phase three trials right now." n

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