Why Ambien will survive

March 30, 2006

I discussed the current problems facing the Ambien brand today on CNBC, here is a summary of my thoughts on what Sanofi-Aventis should be doing:

1. First of all calm down, have a glass of some that fine French red wine.

This is not as bad as it seems. It is actually calling more attention to sleep disorders and the dominant brand Ambien. Now all the talk shows are discussing sleep medicines and doctors for the most part are saying there is little risk in taking the drugs.

Today, more people might be inclined to talk to each other and their doctor about their own sleeping issues. Long-term this crazy issue could end up doing more good than harm. Look at the numbers of people with sleep issues in the US:

  • 6 out of 10 or 126 million Americans experience one symptom of insomnia a few nights a week

  • 16% of target population being treated, sales could be $5 billion by 2010

2. Full page ads defending Ambien sends the wrong message.

It makes the company look defensive. If makes it seem like maybe the company does have something to hide. It makes it seem there might something to this night eating thing. Overreacting makes a mountain out of a mole hill.

3. Advertising is not an effective method for fighting negative PR anyway.

Advertising lacks credibility. Do consumers see information in advertisements as facts? I don’t think so. Ads are self-serving messages. “I did not have relations with that woman.” “The check is in the mail.”

The only way to fight negative PR is with more PR. PR has the advantage of third-party credibility, it tells both sides of the story and presumably gets to the truth.

4. Most of the side effect stories seem to be far fetched and outrageous.

Frying up bacon and eating raw eggs in the middle of the night when you are in a full body cast? These stories are based on anecdotal evidence from 30 or so people. It is Ambien alibi. A perfect excuse for mid-night snackers who put on a few too many pounds and drunk drivers, shop lifters. By the way, why don’t people ever do healthy things while sleepwalking: exercise, cleaning, taxes?

And as it turns out, people with sleep disorders tend to do weird things any. The truth is all drugs have side effects most much worse Ambien’s.

6. Long term strong brands can survive crisis.

Right now comics are going to have a field day with Ambien jokes, but tomorrow they will be on to something else. It’s just way to funny a news story to pass up.

For a weak brand, a PR crisis is disastrous. The brand and market share fall apart. Because you say, see I knew it was no good, I knew there was a reason they weren’t the leader. Consumers jump ship to the competition quickly.

Remember 60 minutes and Audi? The story was eventually discredited but the damage was already done. The brand was too weak in the mind to survive.

When a strong brand falters, you say, it was just a fluke or those people complaining are just crazy. Ambien is the dominant world wide leader. Most consumers will likely stick with brand they consider the best. 13 years on the market and 14 billion great nights of sleep can’t be wrong. 20 people pigging out are not going to convince me otherwise.

Look at Viagra, remember when stories came out that men were going blind after using the drug. Out of 23 million user, 50 went blind (the men also had diabetes & heart disease.) All drugs have side effects and risks. Viagra continues to be the dominant brand because the story was a blip on the radar just like this one will be for Ambien. When it comes to powerful brands and drugs people are willing to play the odds. Especially when it comes to improving stuff that goes on between the sheets.