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Ads Push to Make Balding Men's Loss Industry's Gain

January 29, 1998|DIANE SEO | Diane Seo is a frequent contributor to The Times

NEW YORK — Balding men, take notice. The battle for your business has begun, with an extra-strength version of Rogaine pitted against a new hair-growing pill called Propecia.

Be prepared for a bombardment of print and television ads this year, as the makers of the two products lure customers with scientific findings, catchy phrases and even testimonials from balding sports stars.

The marketing battle began last month after Merck & Co. received approval from the U.S. Food & Drug Administration to sell Propecia as a prescription drug. In November, the FDA gave its nod to Pharmacia & Upjohn to offer its new Rogaine Extra Strength for Men over- the-counter.

With an estimated 33 million American men losing their hair, but only a fraction taking steps to halt or add to their thinning tops, both companies see huge potential in a largely untapped market.

"If you look at all the hoops men jump through to disguise their hair loss, which ranges from surgery to topical lotions to something that resembles spray-paint, you know not to underestimate the extent of male vanity," said David W. Maris, an analyst with Aros Securities in New York. "This could be a several-billion-dollar industry."

Sluggish sales of regular-strength Rogaine and Pharmacia & Upjohn's overall weak financial performance last year have made it all the more important for the company not to be eclipsed by Merck as the hair wars heat up. Pharmacia & Upjohn will spend $80 million this year to advertise the new Rogaine, using New York ad agency Jordan, McGrath, Case & Taylor.

Young & Rubicam will handle Propecia's advertising, with consumer television and print ads debuting later this year.


Merck has been more tight-lipped about its advertising budget for Propecia, which hit U.S. pharmacy shelves earlier this month. But analyst Neil B. Sweig of Southeast Research Partners predicts the drug's ad tab will be between $50 million and $100 million this year.

Propecia is significant to Merck because the company will lose patent protection on some top-selling drugs within the next few years. And although Propecia represents only one drug in the $23.6-billion company's portfolio, analysts and investors have big hopes for the much-hyped hair-growth pill for men.

"Our patients are very, very interested in Propecia," said Paul McAndrews, a Pasadena dermatologist who specializes in hair loss. "We're getting lots of calls about it."

Analysts estimate Propecia's total sales this year to be $300 million to $400 million. Meanwhile, sales estimates for Rogaine Extra Strength are about half of Propecia's. Analysts consider Propecia to be a more promising treatment.

"Propecia should be more successful, but I'm looking at both products to have strong sales," Sweig said. "If Propecia's sales became $400 million or more this year, you can be assured that the product will do a $1-billion business in the year 2000."

Rogaine's new ad campaign features sports stars sharing their hair-growing success after using the Extra Strength formula with 5% Minoxidil, instead of the 2% in the regular-strength solution.


Its first celebrity commercial aired after last Sunday's Super Bowl, with Green Bay Packer Coach Mike Holmgren declaring himself a beneficiary of the stronger Rogaine.

"Every Sunday, I got 60,000 friends staring at my head, so more hair is a big win," Holmgren says in the ad.

Utah Jazz star Karl Malone will show off his new hair in a commercial to be shot at a barber shop.

"Hair loss is a sensitive subject, so we thought it was important to have well-respected guys on TV who are successful users," said Ken Vargha, the company's senior marketing manager. "We're trying to identify other celebrities who are willing to use Rogaine for a while to see if it works for them."

The company also plans an extensive print campaign for its extra-strength Rogaine, which arrived on store shelves late last month. One of the ads displays in bold, black print the phrase: "Gentlemen, start your follicles."

Pharmacia & Upjohn's biggest challenge is to differentiate the new Rogaine from the old version, which some customers have described as greasy and ineffective. Because of Rogaine's mixed reviews, the company must not only attract new users, but also convince those disenchanted with the old product to stay with the brand.

"We're looking at this as an opportunity to reintroduce Rogaine to the public," Vargha said. "We're trying to make people think of it as a breakthrough product because there have been misperceptions about what Rogaine is."

Meanwhile, Merck's marketing plan is aimed at both consumers and physicians. The company already has hired sales representatives specifically to market the drug to the medical community, said Tom Casola, Merck's executive director of the dermatology business group.

Once the FDA approves Propecia's advertising and marketing plan, the consumer push will get underway.

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