The ads, created by DDB New York, portray strong and confident everyday female athletes and mothers and their daughters discussing Gardasil as the vaccine that can help protect you from the four types of viruses that cause 70 percent of cervical cancers.
"Each year in the U.S., thousands of women learn they have cervical cancer," says a young woman skateboarder, facing the camera. "I could be one less. One less statistic." Another vignette in the TV spots depicts girls skipping rope on a sidewalk and chanting: "O-N-E-L-E-S-S. I want to be one less. One less."
According to TNS AdScope, the spot broke yesterday on the "Guiding Light" soap opera and directed consumers to both an 800-number and the Gardasil.com Web site for more information.
Gardasil is the first vaccine that helps protect against diseases caused by four strains of HPV virus. In June, it received approval from the FDA and was provisionally recommended by the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices on June 29 for girls and women ages 9-26.
The treatment requires a three-shot regimen that costs $360. According to Merck, 90 percent of drug companies have agreed to cover the cost of immunizations, and the government has agreed to make it an eligible vaccination for children who receive government-subsidized medical care.
Merck spent $27.4 million in the first six months of this year, reports TNS Media Intelligence, on paid media to advertise the HPV message through its campaign to "Tell Someone." Critics of that campaign maintained it was the company's way of advertising a drug that had yet to receive FDA approval.
Marc Boston, a spokesperson for the Merck Vaccine Division, said the www.tell-someone.com Web site will remain live, but most of Merck's paid advertising will now shift to the "One Less" campaign. He declined to reveal total spending, but said ads will run on national television and print. The new ads can also be seen on www.gardasil.com.
The earlier "Tell Someone" campaign was very visible on "mother/daughter" shows such as "Gilmore Girls."
Pediatricians and ob-gyns received advance notice that the campaign would be breaking, said Boston. One large North Jersey pediatric practice sent postcards to parents of age-appropriate daughters last weekend alerting them that they have the vaccine in stock.
The new ads, says Jason L. Schwartz, a researcher with the University of Pennsylvania Center for Bioethics, should also help Merck with another audience: politicians.
"The medical community is without exception very happy to potentially eliminate several thousand deaths per year," said Schwartz, who also edits Penn's blog on the ethics of vaccines. "In the under 18 population, cost will absolutely not be an issue."
Last week, Michigan became the first state to introduce an initiative that would require the vaccine for all sixth-grade girls as a requirement to attend school.
"These ads are clearly directed to parents and families to get their support," said Schwartz, after viewing the spots on the Web site. "Opinions vary on implementation and whether the vaccine should be mandated for school attendance or the decision left to parents."
GlaxoSmithKline is working on its own vaccine, Cervarix, but industry experts say it is at least 18 months behind Merck at getting it to market.