PFIZER: Courting the Sesame Street Antibiotic Demographic
Pharmaceutical manufacturer Pfizer, Inc., has taken up a new residence on Sesame Street, pledging to underwrite the 31st season of the popular children's show. Beginning in January, the company will air 15-second spots at the opening and closing of each episode, executives announced this week. In addition, Pfizer and the show's producer, the not-for-profit Children's Television Workshop, have collaborated to assemble "Sesame Street Goes to the Doctor," a video kit that "aims to reduce children's fears about visiting a pediatrician" and to promote the proper use of antibiotics. The video featuring Muppets' creature Elmo, seeking treatment for an ear infection, assures children that they should not be afraid of visiting the doctor and sends a message to parents that antibiotics work only against bacterial infections and that "children taking these drugs should take them, as prescribed, until the whole bottle is consumed." The video does not mention any Pfizer drugs. According to Pat Kelly, Pfizer senior vice president of marketing, the segments and the video are "not designed to boost antibiotic sales." Kelly said, "The relationship between Pfizer and Sesame Street came about as a natural outgrowth of our mutual interest in children's well-being." But pediatrician Donna Ruiz views the move as "one more way for drug makers to raise awareness of their drugs," noting, "I don't think there's anything wrong with that. This is another way of sticking in parents' minds a drug their child may benefit from." Targeting children seems to be the latest advertising trend for drug companies, the Bergen Record reports. California-based Amgen hired a 15-year-old anemia patient to promote its anemia treatment, and the world's largest vaccine producer, Merck & Co., has published a special Muppets-themed magazine extolling "the virtues of vaccines." In addition, the company, which also sells asthma medication, maintains a Web site section for asthmatic children, where they can play games and find out how to explain the condition to friends (Shook, 11/18).
Sesame Street to Wall Street
Meanwhile, Pfizer this week stepped up its efforts in a hostile takeover bid for Warner-Lambert Co., urging Warner-Lambert shareholders to jettison the company's board. During a Tuesday meeting with analysts, Pfizer executives slammed takeover competitor American Home Products, contending that the company's "sales, profits and drug research are weak," compared to Pfizer's "profits, massive sales force and research proficiency." Pfizer President Hank McKinnell said, "On all measures of financial performance, a Pfizer-Warner-Lambert merger significantly outperforms Warner-Lambert with American Home" (Elser, Bloomberg News/Providence Journal, 11/17). Company officials predicted a 24% earnings per share growth through 2002 under a Pfizer deal, thanks to "the extraordinary strength of [Pfizer's] innovative new medicines, outstanding R&D and best-in-class sales and marketing" (Reuters/Investor's Business Daily, 11/17). In addition, the company has filed suit in Delaware courts to "oust Warner-Lambert's board of directors and replace them with seven independent directors," the Associated Press reports (Galewitz, 11/17). Pfizer claims that board members and executives unfairly thwarted its bid in order to "save their own jobs." Tim Ghriskey, senior portfolio manager at Dreyfus Corp., which owns shares in all three drug companies, said it looks like "Pfizer is going to do everything they can to make this happen" (Bloomberg News/Providence Journal, 11/17).