Allergan Advertises Way To Bypass The Gastric Bypass

Allergan is using a direct-to-consumer testimonial campaign for its Lap-Band technology--one of the industry's first TV campaigns for a surgical procedure--to help boost the number of obese individuals who elect it as a less invasive alternative to full-blown gastric bypass.

The Allergan Lap-Band System has been an FDA-approved weight-loss procedure since 2001. Allergan acquired the technology this year when it bought Inamed Health.

Gastric bypass involves cutting the stomach and intestines to make them smaller. This limits how much a patient can eat. The Lap-Band is a silicone ring inserted by laparoscope around the opening of the stomach to make it smaller.

One of the benefits, Allergan says, is that the band can be adjusted and reduced in size to speed up weight loss--or expanded, say, if a woman becomes pregnant and needs to eat more. Unlike gastric bypass, a Lap-Band patient doesn't have to give up certain types of foods.

A TV campaign, via Beacon Healthcare, Bedminster, N.J., broke on CBS primetime last week and on national cable stations at the end of October. Bart Bandy, a senior vice president at Allergan, said the company is in discussions with the other TV networks. Bandy declined to give the media spend, but said the campaign is slated to run until the end of next year.



The 60-second TV spot is a testimonial, featuring a Seattle woman who lost 115 pounds after getting the Lap-Band procedure. A mom and kindergarten teacher, she talks about her life-long struggle with weight, and the way the surgery helped her control it. The weight loss also helped the real-life patient Cyndi Worthington lower her blood pressure to normal levels and improve her asthma.

Bandy said a testimonial was used because potential patients are more receptive to learning about the Lap-Band from others who have had the procedure.

The spot drives consumers to Allergan's Web site,, and offers a toll-free phone number for further information and lists of approved surgeons. Responses will help Allergan gauge the initial success of the campaign.

Bandy declined to give the response rate thus far, but did say in the two weeks since launch, responses have exceeded expectations. It's far too soon to evaluate conversions because of the length of time required between information request and an actual procedure occurring.

Allergan is projecting Lap-Band sales from March through year-end to be between $130 million and $140 million. Beyond that, the company anticipates the overall worldwide market to grow at a rate of 35 percent.

The campaign also includes professional journal advertisements, revamped consumer and professional Web sites, and materials for display in doctors' offices. Bandy said Allergan is currently helping qualified surgeons who are interested in launching their own individual Lap-Band campaigns.

To qualify for the surgery, a patient must be morbidly obese, with a Body Mass Index of 40. If weight-related health issues such as high blood pressure are present, BMI can be 35 (approximately a 5-foot 8-inch. person with a body weight of 235 pounds--a little more than Kirstie Alley's pre-Jenny Craig weight).

Although Inamed's band technology is the only one approved in the U.S., Johnson & Johnson's Ethicon unit is awaiting FDA approval for its bariatric procedure.

More than 250,000 Lap-Band procedures have been performed since 2001, the company reports. Allergan, which was only a few years ago known as an eye care company, has over the past few years been behind such vanity products and procedures as Botox, breast implants and Juviderm wrinkle treatment.

With rising rates of obesity, the U.S. bariatric market is slated to generate more than $1 billion in annual revenues by 2010, according to the Millennium Research Group. The market includes products such as wheelchairs, beds, scales, bigger surgical tools and other equipment to help hospitals accommodate extremely overweight individuals for bariatric and other types of surgeries.

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