What's Black and White and Sells Medicine?
NY Times, August 27, 2000
Replicas of Max, a small plastic zebra, hang from the stethoscopes of so
many pediatricians at the Children's Hospital in Boston that at least
one family has asked whether he was the hospital's mascot. But no, Max
is a creation of Pfizer Inc., intended to sell an antibiotic called
Zithromax. And with Max's help, Zithromax has become a billion-dollar
drug in just a few years.
Pediatricians open their mailboxes to find medical journals wrapped in
paper covered with Max's stripes. Zithromax sales representatives hand
out stuffed zebras to doctors to help console their young patients. And
Pfizer has donated a real zebra to the San Francisco Zoo and invited
scores of children to a celebration at which the zebra was named Max.
Last year, after federal health officials said that other antibiotics
were not only cheaper, but worked better for children's ear infections,
Pfizer sponsored a season of "Sesame Street," enlisting Elmo, the
Muppet, to help in the campaign.
The sales effort is classic Pfizer. It is also an example of what makes
Pfizer both the company that rivals try to emulate and a target of
critics who worry that the use of many prescription drugs now has more
to do with marketing than with the effectiveness or actual need for a
Pfizer says its worldwide army of 20,000 sales representatives is the
industry's largest. And while the company has the biggest research
budget in the industry, it spends more than twice as much on marketing
and administrative expenses.
Last year, the company spent 39 percent of its $16 billion in revenue on
those expenses -- a rate that was about one-fifth higher than the