Ambien steps up marketing to downplay reports

Sanofi-Aventis stepped up its advertising this week in a bid to address recent anecdotal reports of sleepwalking— and to halt sliding sales—among patients taking Ambien (zolpidem). A new print ad, whose copy reads “The real Ambien story,” is designed to clarify safety information about the drug, said Emmy Tsui, Sanofi spokesperson, and appears in daily newspapers including The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal and in select weekly magazines. The company used Marsteller Advertising Group, an advertising, interactive design and development/production unit of PR giant Burson-Marsteller, to create the ad, rather than consumer agency of record Saatchi & Saatchi Consumer Healthcare. Tsui would not comment on the reason for not using Saatchi. “We’re trying to reinforce the messages about the safety and efficacy of Ambien and make sure the information is accurate and clear for consumers,” she said. “A lot of research we’ve done has shown reports in the media have created confusion.” The effort follows news articles telling of Ambien patients engaging in nocturnal forays to their kitchens or cars, with no recollection of the behavior—reports Sanofi had only addressed through a press release on its Web site. A new Web site also launched this week. includes the press release, along with FAQs and prescribing information. Appropriately, the communications blitz comes during National Sleep Awareness Week, the National Sleep Foundation’s annual public education, information and awareness campaign that began March 27. The ad’s headline, “The real Ambien story: It shouldn’t keep you up at night,” and tagline, “Sleep well,” may help counter the association between the drug and sleepwalking. Negative perceptions already have hurt sales. In the three weeks ending March 24, new Ambien prescriptions declined 13.7% to 204,537, according to Verispan, while new Ambien CR (controlled release) prescriptions fell 15.3% to 58,626. New scripts for competitor Lunesta (eszopiclone), from Sepracor, also sagged 4.7% to 63,236. Meanwhile, Rozerem (ramelteon), the new insomnia drug from Takeda Pharmaceuticals North America, which has a different mechanism of action than Ambien and Lunesta, has been largely unaffected by the news. New prescriptions started the month at 10,393 and dipped slightly to 10,258. Along with tips for taking Ambien, the new ad states that the nighttime events, collectively known as somnambulism, are included in Ambien prescribing information as “possible rare side effects,” adding, “patient safety always has been and will continue to be of paramount importance to the makers of Ambien.” Tsui would not say how long the ad would run or whether there will be additional ads.