Marketing Leadership, Consumer, Lifestyle/Travel/Leisure and Innovation: Pfizer New Zealand

Pharmaceutical companies invest billions of dollars to develop big blockbuster drugs—and many years trying to get them approved by the health authorities. And Pfizer’s erectile dysfunction treatment Viagra is one of the world’s best known and most successful. But the profitability of big brands can collapse suddenly when patents expire and generic ‘knock offs’ flood the market. 

When this happens, the accepted norm in the industry is for up to 90 percent of an originator brand’s volume and share to be lost almost overnight. It’s an issue none of the big pharmaceutical companies have been able to resolve and, typically, blockbuster compounds and their brands are simply written off or retired.  

Viagra was facing early patent expiry in New Zealand, but the local team weren’t going to take it lying down, so Pfizer took the very unusual step of launching its own generic brand in an effort to migrate consumers to a Pfizer-made alternative called Avigra. 

What’s new 

Pfizer believed the best form of attack was defence and the strategy aimed to prevent generic competitors establishing in market and stop Viagra users switching to competitors. In a sense, it was attacking its own brand, so the strategic and creative challenge was to transfer positive brand equity from Viagra and link it to the new brand, which was being sold at a more affordable price point. 

In 2010, 42,000 men, or just 15 percent of those over 49, sought treatment for ED, with 27,000 ending up on treatment. So it aimed to launch Avigra with wide appeal and broaden the potential target audience to include men who were previously unable to afford some assistance.

Viagra, which was initially studied for use treating high blood pressure and angina, is still patented in key global markets, so nothing would be approved if it threatened its brand health internationally, which meant everything required approval from an initially sceptical Pfizer worldwide management. And, as it was a world first, the expectations were hard to quantify. 


As a brand that defined an entire category, Viagra didn’t have to prove its credentials. In contrast, Avigra needed to build on its links to Viagra and establish a unique brand personality as an appealing and reassuring brand that was able to connect with men from all walks of life. Avigra also had to avoid the pharmaceutical/medical market clichés of showing stock images of happy couples smiling together, a tactic used by Viagra’s main brand competitor Cialis.    

The messaging strategy spanned both product information and brand building. Basic awareness was driven though a syndicated Family Health Diary infomercial on TV through BrandWorld and Avigra’s brand, preference and consideration was driven with print ads in mainstream consumer magazines and newspapers, as well as trade publications like New Zealand Doctor, Pharmacy Today and Pharmalines. 

Point of sale material ensured GPs, practice nurses and pharmacists understood Avigra and lines like ‘Get ready for some stiff competition’ reminded them that Avigra was here to compete.

Avigra took a more colloquial approach than many of its competitors and this positive and likeable tone of voice was central to the creative. However, while it had a bit of fun with pun-laden launch lines like ‘More Bang for your Buck’, ‘An affordable option for hard times’, ‘Isn’t it time you got your tackle sorted?’ (which featured in fishing mags), or ‘Keep it up lads’ and ‘Don’t just settle for a semi lads’ in support of the All Blacks in the Rugby World Cup, this tone was never allowed to slip into throwaway gags about ‘hardening up’ that could undermine the confidence of those with ED. 

Adding to the difficulty factor of this campaign were the strict regulatory controls of the therapeutic advertising pre-vetting system, which makes it hard to achieve breakthrough results with pharmaceutical marketing and requires a high degree of long-term planning. 

While many categories were able to take advantage of distressed media to leverage events like the 2011 RWC, this wasn’t possible if best practice guidelines were being adhered to, so Avigra’s semi and finals ads supporting the All Blacks required weeks of advance notice to break convention and bring an element of spontaneity into a highly regulated market.  


Avigra launched in May 2011 and by July 2011 it had gained over 70 percent of the total ED market in New Zealand. And, as of March 2012, that level of share had been retained, with much of Avigra’s growth achieved at the expense of its major competitor Cialis. 

Sales smashed all expectations, Avigra grew the total ED market significantly as new users forked out and, putting this achievement into context, two new non-Pfizer generics both failed to secure five percent market share. 

As expected, Viagra’s market share dropped significantly, but rather than completely lose the revenue, it has shifted much of it to another brand, a strategy that’s been so successful Pfizer has decided to take a similar approach for another of its key brands, Lipitor, which has also lost patent protection and is exposed to generic competition. 

Pfizer now sees Avigra’s pre-emptive strike as a best practice case study to combat generics and this locally-developed, purely marketing-led initiative has the potential to transform the accepted dynamics of an entire industry. That’s the kind of result that really gets marketers’ blood flowing. 

Awards: The University of WaikatoMarketing Leadership, Hypermedia Consumer, Innovation and Lifestyle/Travel/Leisure

Winner: Pfizer New Zealand

The partners: bcg2 Health, MediaCom, BrandWorld

Judge’s comment: “The idea was revolutionary for the category. They had an existing great brand and the category always says at the end of patents then it’s open for generics. But they turned that assumption on its head and said ‘no, we’re going to use our already strong brand to create a new brand that leverages everything off it, but expands the category at the same time’. They had to go right to the very top of the organisation to get buy in. It was really big challenge, a really big risk and it really, really worked.”

Merit (Lifestyle/Travel/Leisure): New Zealand Rugby Union

The success of Super Rugby is measured by two key performance measurements: TV audience and gate attendance, measures that arguably counteract each other. And results for both had been in decline since 2008, which was directly affecting the NZRU’s revenue. So the NZRU reviewed how the competition was being delivered and agreed on a clear marketing strategy to ensure the plan was achieved. And achieved it was: both TV audiences and gate attendance consistently delivered over +30 percent increase over 2011, which was an extraordinary result when you consider stakeholders were engaged with the Rugby World Cup, rugby fans had spent most of their discretionary dollar on RWC tickets and fan expectations around rugby entertainment had been raised due to a home RWC event.

Merit (consumer): Kiwibank, ‘Green ops: Operation Easyswitch’

Switching banks is such a hassle that
almost nobody bothers. But Kiwibank triggered change to the switching system in
New Zealand and then created a category-breaking campaign to let everyone know
how easy it was. 
The campaign really began when Kiwibank,
alongside the Bankers’ Association, made it much easier for  New Zealanders to switch, with one just one
signature. But few people actually changed so it launched ‘Green Ops –
Operation Easyswitch’ to promote the new regime. Green Ops was a YouTube site and
advertising campaign that was less like a financial services offer and more
like a Hollywood film launch. And in the genre of a spy thriller, Kiwibank made
heroes out of the Green Ops team, whose mission it was to help rescue customers
from bad banking experiences. The campaign changed the style of bank
promotions, blitzed every switching record in the bank’s history and grew
Kiwibank’s share in the mortgage market. Most new customers brought their high
revenue home loans with them, and because the campaign didn’t rely on expensive
television media, it delivered an extremely high ROI.

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