Monday, June 11, 2007

GlaxoSmithKline Launches $150 Million Effort For Alli

GlaxoSmithKline Launches $150 Million Effort For Alli
by Karl Greenberg, Monday, Jun 11, 2007 5:00 AM ET
GLAXOSMITHKLINE (GSK) CONSUMER HEALTHCARE HAS launched the first salvo of its $150 million effort for Alli, the first FDA-approved over-the-counter weight loss drug in years. The effort for Alli (pronounced like ally) launched on May 22 in New York City. The company took over the vaulted-ceiling main room of 20 Union Square for its multimedia exhibit called Alli Experience.

The central tenet of the experience--and of the drug, which goes on sale mid-June--is gradual weight loss and a "don't expect miracles" approach embodied by the tag, "Your will. Our power."

The compound, an attenuated version of prescription drug Xenical (Orlistat 120mg), works by inhibiting the function of intestinal enzymes that facilitate the body's absorption of fat. The company says it blocks the absorption of about a quarter of the fat one consumes. GSK will sell Alli in product packets that include a 30-day supply and a series of books including calorie counters, diets and recipes, lifestyle tips, and a diary.

Since the compound--intended to be taken three times daily--is being pitched as a companion to dieting rather than a replacement for it, the company's marketing and the exhibit attack fad and crash diets and repeat, in different forms, the mantra that dieting is a commitment that takes time, pill or no pill.

The first area of the exhibit is a passage flanked by video screens playing clips of miracle diet ads and stories debunking them, while speakers play a cacophonous loop of quick-diet pitches.

The next space is a bench next to a wall of sayings like "there are no shortcuts." There's an interactive section featuring tables with Mac computers letting one view content on how Alli works, on dieting, etc., and there are areas featuring examples of various dishes and snacks--some healthier than others--with big turntables showing real food under glass and their respective caloric and fat content.

A dietitian and pharmacist are also on hand. Visitors leave with a shopping bag of brochures, games, surveys and a book, Are you Losing It? The book is for sale in pharmacies and bookstores for $5.99, the proceeds going to child obesity charities.

Joe Cadle, Marketing Director/Weight Control of GSK Consumer Healthcare, says that although GSK positions the treatment in contradistinction to compounds claiming to "melt off the pounds," the competition is not miracle drugs--because, he says, people who reach for quick and easy solutions to weight problems won't be interested in Alli. "People who tend to buy miracle drugs are looking for a quick fix, so we aren't competing with them. Our efforts are positioned against those selling to consumers committed to doing the hard work."

Says Cadle: "When you take a look at the messages out right now, a lot of products are being marketed as miracle fixes: 'Lose 20 pounds in two weeks!' Alli is about changes toward a healthy lifestyle that require a commitment."

Cadle says the marketing group realized, through consumer research, that consumers have no clue what the difference is between an FDA-approved compound and any number of so-called diet drugs lining shelves and being promoted in ads. "People intuitively don't trust these things any more--they hear these claims, and know they are not true. We want to be an honest voice in a category known for hype. The truth is, losing weight is hard ... and that resonates." He explained that Alli is intended to offer a kind of bonus for the work of dieting via extra "bonus" weight lost. "One woman in a focus group says those extra five pounds would be priceless."

Debbie Weis, GSK Consumer Healthcare senior brand manager, says that, depending on the response to the Alli Experience in New York, which ended last week, the company plans to have additional programs in other markets.

One of the staff pharmacists says as many as 1,300 people have come through on a given day, with many of them asking questions about the effect of Alli on diabetes and cholesterol-lowering drugs. Cadle says GSK is doing targeted efforts via sales teams and targeted communications to physicians on specific health issues.

Overall, per Weis, about 5,000 people have come through the exhibit since the opening. "They are spending around 10 minutes in the space, on average. That's more than we expected."

The company began running a "drive-to-web" 30-second TV spot earlier this month, and Cadle says that the Alli Web site,, has garnered 1 million unique visitors since launch.

Per Cadle, this month GSK will launch a 60-second TV commercial and will ramp up Internet efforts. Print efforts will include 15 million four-page inserts in July and August issues of women's magazines with an "accordion-fold" pull-out.

"From a marketing perspective, we are developing content that can travel, content you can carry--we want to educate consumers at every possible touch point [about] where they can find Alli," he says.

Display kiosks at pharmacies and stores selling Alli will be focused less on product pitch than education and self-inquiry about will power, Cadle says--with brochures on lifestyle and diet choices, assessment tests, even a telephone at some retail points that have audio challenging consumers to think about whether they are willing to make the commitment. The company is also running video content on YouTube.

Consumers can purchase the Alli starter kit from sites like for $49.25 for a 60 capsule-count starter pack and for $62.99 for a 90-capsule starter pack, per a GSK spokesperson. However, the retail cost of the product in stores may vary a little based on the individual retailer promotional plans.

Karl Greenberg can be reached at

buzz this