Synova To Launch Campaign To Reintroduce The Today Sponge

In what will no doubt be good news for Elaine Benes, the Today Sponge is back. Actually, it returned to shelves in 2005, after a 10-year absence. However, the Synova Healthcare Group, Inc., which focuses on women's reproductive and health-care products, will re-launch the product first to doctors then via a national campaign this spring.

Synova will show the Today Sponge female contraceptive at the May annual clinical meeting of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) in San Diego, Calif., where some 5,000 members will be first in line to see the ads and packaging, per a Synova press release.

The first version of the over-the-counter birth control product, which is now a soft, polyurethane sponge coated with sperm-killing nonoxynol-9, went off the market in 1995 after a 12-year run. The product was discontinued because American Home Products, now Wyeth Pharmaceuticals, which made Today, discovered a contamination problem at the plant that made the sponges. Production was discontinued, though the sponge was a leading contraceptive.

Ironically, that was also the year the product entered mainstream culture when "Seinfeld" aired a show in which Elaine proclaimed it her favorite type of contraceptive and screened potential lovers to determine whether they were "sponge-worthy."

Allendale Pharmaceuticals, which acquired the marquee in 1995, and relaunched it in 2005, was itself acquired earlier this year by Synova, which also got the rights to the Today brand.

The unveiling of Today at the ACOG meeting will be followed by a multi-media consumer advertising campaign. Synova used Harrisburg, Penn.-based Pavone for the launch of its Fem-V consumer test for vaginal infection last May, an effort that also began with a show-and-tell at the 2006 ACOG meeting. While Pavone continues to handle that product, Horsham, Pa.-based pharmaceutical ad agency Dudnyk is handling creative duties for Today.

Dave Harrison, COO of the Media, Pa.-based Synova, says that while there are no direct competitors -- no similar barrier-based contraceptives using nonoxynol-9, a non-hormonal spermicide -- a range of both prescription and OTC products and other devices falls into the competitive set. "It's a tricky question, because we compete, broadly, against the pill, but that's not really how this plays out. What Today does is provide another choice for women."

Harrison, who says the company is currently engaged in a multi-city effort to hone the marketing message for the relaunch, added that the company will spotlight the product's convenience, spontaneity and the fact that it has a 24-hour cycle, all three of which are related: one can insert it in advance and use it repeatedly over a 24-hour period. Also noted will be that Today is non-hormonal. "It's an important feature of the product," he says.

"We have been working very aggressively since acquiring Allendale; we are going to rebrand the product, and we are out testing packaging concepts and ad concepts and creative in a multi-city phase right now to gauge the right message."

Retail distribution is throughout the U.S. and Canada in stores like Walgreens, CVS, Rite-Aid, Wal-Mart, Target, Longs Drug, HEB, Publix and A&P and online at amazon.com and drugstore.com.

Harrison says the challenge, at least initially, will be building awareness because the product is far less known today than it was in the Nineties. "The important thing is that this was successful and important in its heyday, but a whole generation of healthcare practitioners and women now isn't aware it's on the market. That's where you'll see the biggest uptake and growth in the market, is just awareness."

According to the Guttmacher Institute, a sexual health and policy think tank, 62% of women 15-44 use contraceptives; 43 million women, or 7 in 10 as of 2005, are sexually active and don't want to become pregnant. Also, per the institute, the typical American woman wants only two children and would have to use contraceptives for roughly 3 decades of her life to achieve that limit.

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