In TBWA's New Ads for GSK's Alli, Loss of Bowel Control Is No Longer a Problem

Last Updated Sep 9, 2009 5:05 PM EDT

GlaxoSmithKline's new advertising for diet drug Alli plays down its famous side effect -- loss of bowel control -- in favor of more upbeat weight-loss claims since TBWA won the $85 million business. The change in tone was noticed by John Mack at the Pharma Marketing Blog. He says:
Have you noticed that the new alli ads on TV and on the www.myalli.com web site have changed?

Specifically, there is no direct mention of the "horrendous side effect" (ie, anal leakage). In addition, product claims are enhanced.

Mack claims that the side effect is so downplayed that if it were a prescription product it would fall afoul of FDA guidelines. Alli is available without a prescription, giving TBWA a lot more leeway in making claims for the drug.

GSK launched Alli with an upfront campaign that tackled the bowel control issues head-on. But sales of the product did not take off as hoped. So GSK switched marketing chiefs and under new boss Karen Scollick Alli's brand voice took on a more appearance-oriented inflection.

More recently, Alli signed Wynonna Judd as a spokesperson and has highlighted its "FDA approved" status -- something that sets it apart from other weight loss brands.

There were some signs that the push was working -- sales of Alli have been up recently. But in August the FDA warned it was looking into reports of liver damage associated with the drug. That's a Damocles' sword hanging over this brand. If those reports turn out to be serious, then TBWA's efforts on Alli will be for naught.

In the meantime, it appears that TBWA's advertising for Alli will be going for the hard sell in favor of the minor details.