Surreal Dream Ads No Snoozer For Sleep Aid

What do Abraham Lincoln, a talking beaver and a deep-sea diver have that William Shakespeare and the Statue of Liberty missed out on? Starring roles in perhaps the most surreal and unusual ad campaign for sleeping pills to hit the market.

And what a booming market it is. Americans spent $2 billion on non-barbiturate sedatives from March through September 2006--up from $818 million during the same time period just four years ago, according to the Wolters Kluwer Health Pharmaceutical Audit Suite (PHAST) Prescriptions Monthly, which tracks industry data.

As consumers' battle with insomnia intensifies, so does the warfare over the prescription sleeping pill market. According to TNS Media Intelligence, Sanofi Aventis spent $88.3 million on advertising for market leader Ambien in 2005--up 44 percent from the previous year--while Sepracor Inc. spent $215 million on Lunesta.

For the first six months of this year, category spending is already at $276 million, TNS reports--with $113.8 million spent on Ambien, $161.9 million on Lunesta, and $333,000 (in print only) on Rozerem.



Takeda Pharmaceutical North America started a heavy ad push for its Rozerem brand in July 2006, although the brand has been available to consumers since October 2005. TV spots and supporting materials show a sleep-deprived man slumped over his kitchen table with Lincoln (a president who suffered from insomnia), the nocturnal beaver, and a deep sea diver. The tagline: "Your Dreams Miss You."

From March through August 2006, Rozerem sales grew to $38 million, capturing a 1.9 percent market share. Lunesta's market share grew twofold to 17.3 percent from 8.5 percent, while Ambien's slipped to 57.7 percent from 80.1 percent, according to Wolters Kluwer.

"We knew our ads had to cut through the clutter," says Chris Benecchi, senior product manager of consumer strategies for Rozerem. "Typically in ads, you see someone suffering insomnia; then they get a prescription and are ready to face the day. We wanted to create a real-world depiction of what it's like, using the characters to get people to stop and pay attention." He would not reveal ad spending.

To explain the odd juxtaposition of Lincoln with a talking beaver, Benecchi says that in focus groups, the president scored higher than any other character, including Shakespeare and Lady Liberty.

"People liked the beaver in market research for the balance he gave to Lincoln," Benecchi adds. "He's a metaphor for hard-working and diligent, and that is sometimes what prevents people from falling asleep."

The dive captain, who doesn't have any lines, is there simply to add to the surreal environment. "At the end of the day, it's a dream--and dreams can be strange and magical," Benecchi says.

The spots are supported by an aggressive print, radio and out-of-home campaign that aims to reach consumers when they are feeling the worst effects of a rotten night's sleep--during an insomnia episode and the following day commuting to and from work. The brand's Web site,, has received a half-million unique visitors since mid-July. Visitors can sign up for podcasts to listen to when they cannot sleep.

Benecchi says out-of-home ads are a significant chunk of the campaign, with signage in train stations, taxi stops and buses in several U.S. cities. "We're using a reach and frequency perspective," he says. "You can get out there with TV and print, but billboards and radio are another opportunity to engage the consumer in dialogue."

Ad agencies that worked on the campaign are Cramer-Krasselt and Abelson-Taylor, both headquartered in Chicago. Takeda Pharmaceutical's U.S. offices are in Deerfield, Ill.

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