Ad War Over Sleep Aids Predicted

Actress Eva Longoria poses in the press room after hosting The ALMA Awards in Los Angeles on Thursday, Sept. 17, 2009. (AP Photo/Dan
AP Photo
Terri Bagley spent nearly two decades searching for a way to get a good night's sleep.

She toyed with keeping her bedroom pitch black and sniffing in the soothing smell of lavender. But neither those tricks nor over-the-counter and prescription medications made much of a difference.

Bagley, a 44-year-old operator of a small cleaning service in Pelham, N.C., is typical of the millions of Americans believed to suffer from chronic insomnia who until recently had mostly short-term solutions available. She found help in a clinical trial for Lunesta, one of a new generation of prescription sleep medications, and continued taking the drug after it hit the market in April.

"If you're tired for 20 years, you don't realize how much better you can feel until you start getting a full night's sleep again," she said.

An emerging class of sleep aids is spurring an advertising effort that industry watchers say could rival the saturation campaign for erectile dysfunction drugs.

"I would expect this to become a very active category of drugs in consumer advertising," said Judy Franks, of Starcom Worldwide, a Chicago-based ad buying agency.

U.S. advertising for prescription and over-the-counter insomnia drugs totaled nearly $68 million last year, according to TNS Media Intelligence, a media research firm. But spending in the first four months of this year alone was already $48.7 million; at that rate, it could top $146 million this year.

The total is still far less than the $382 million spent last year to advertise erectile dysfunction drugs. But advertising industry officials expect spots encouraging insomniacs to talk to their doctor will become more frequent in coming months as more sleep aids hit the market.

"When a new competitor comes into the marketplace, it usually heightens spending on the part of all the competitors, because they need to defend their positions in the marketplace," said Michael Guarini, managing director of the New York City-based Ogilvy Healthcare.