It was a plot point on a famous episode of Seinfeld, but that was the high point for the Today Sponge in recent years. Now, 12 years after Wyeth stopped making it, a new owner is looking to relaunch the contraceptive sponge to a highly segmented swatch of consumers with brighter packaging, print ads and a Web site.
Synova Healthcare Group hopes to market the sponge to women in several “life situations,” including those who've recently become single but don't want to commit to the pill, women who have concerns about the side effects of hormonal contraceptives, breastfeeding mothers, women between pregnancies and free spirits who don't want to be tied down by a daily birth control regimen – in addition to the dwindling number of sponge loyalists who've returned to the product since its reintroduction. They're represented by characters, drawn by French artist Colonel Moustarde, that feature in all brand materials, including packaging – among them, the newly single 40-year-old store manager, the thirtysomething career woman and the “health-conscious” twentysomething, fresh out of college.
“It's not the type of product where you can just look at women ages 18-34,” said Frank Powers, EVP, managing supervisor at Dudnyk, which handles creative for the campaign. Dorland is handling PR for the brand, and Compass Interactive designed the website.
The sponge was actually “soft-launched” by Allendale Pharmaceuticals in 2005, but the company put little marketing spend behind it. In 2006, Allendale was acquired by Synova, which saw in the sponge a product primed for a comeback, given the growing unease about hormonal treatments. But first the sponge had to shed its dowdy packaging, better suited to the “Feminine products” aisles of old than the contraceptive kiosks of the modern pharmacy.
“The retail environment is really crucial for this product,” said Dudnyk EVP, creative director Barry Schmader. “The contraceptive marketplace has really changed since it was last available.” Condoms, he notes, were once behind the counter. Now they have their own section, “and all the condom companies are doing a great job with line extensions and packaging. It's very vibrant.” Data shows women of the ages Synova is seeking to reach visit pharmacies 3-4 times a month, Schmader said, “so that shelf space and in-store promotion is a third leg of our media campaign.”
The repackaged Sponge hit Walgreens store shelves in July and Synova expects to have full national distribution, including CVS, Wal-Mart, Rite Aid and Target pharmacies, by the end of August. Print ads ran in the July issues of Cosmo and Shape, and will appear in August issues of Parent and Working Mother. On the professional side, the brand had a presence at the May annual meeting of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Journal ads are breaking in September and will appear in Family Doctor, Contemporary OB/GYN and OB/GYN News.
And then there's Seinfeld's Elaine. Played by Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Elaine comically stocked up on the sponge when Wyeth stopped making it and judged her dates on their “Sponge-worthiness,” thus ensuring 100% awareness of the brand – but also 100% awareness that it was no longer on the market, a lingering effect that Synova must overcome. The firm is thinking about product placement opportunities on Julia Louis-Dreyfus's latest vehicle, The New Adventures of Old Christine.