King Pharmaceuticals Inc. is as serious as a heart attack about its first Super Bowl commercial — a lighthearted pitch about prevention that touts an American Heart Association Web site without mentioning its own top heart drug, Altace.
"This is a reminder and a wake-up call," said Steve Andrzejewski, King's chief commercial officer. "We are not talking about something like toe nail fungus. People could die."
But the ad, titled "Heart Attack," carries its cautionary message lightly.
A man dressed like a big, red, briefcase-toting "heart" is walking down the street when he's kidnapped by such villainous black-leathered risk factors as high blood pressure, diabetes, weight problems and high cholesterol. They beat him up in an alley.
"Is your heart at risk of an attack?" the narrator says in directing viewers to the Web site for a six-question quiz on the chances of a heart attack or stroke.
King is sponsoring the site under a three-year deal with the heart association.
"How does it tie back to Altace?" Andrzejewski said. "Well, after people take the quiz, they are asked to take it to their doctor and have a conversation with them."
And that, King hopes, will lead to new prescriptions for the drug. One of the top-selling ACE inhibitors for controlling high blood pressure, Altace sales accounted for $554 million of King's $1.8 billion in revenue in 2005.
King, a midsize drug company based in Bristol, Tenn., is banking heavily on this ad concept — its first major campaign for Altace since a co-promotion deal with Wyeth Pharmaceuticals ended last year.
King plans to spend about $4.2 million for a 60-second commercial late in the first half, a 30-second spot in the post-game show and a five-second banner ad sometime during the Super Bowl on Sunday. By comparison, King spent around $5.1 million on consumer advertising for Altace in all of 2005.
But with 90 million people watching — and presumably many of them among the estimated 70 million people in the United States with high blood pressure — the company and its consultants believe it's worth it.
"Look, this is one of the few ways you can get many, many people at one time," said Rebecca Sroge, executive vice president and managing director of Glow Worm, a New York agency that created the "Heart Attack" ad.
Moreover, she said, "This is one place where people actually watch for the commercials."
Conventional wisdom would say the Super Bowl is a venue for beer ads, not better health.
Sroge disagrees, so long as the ads are entertaining.
"I don't think it is appropriate to have some guy in a white lab coat staring into the audience saying, 'You are going to die if you eat another chicken wing,'" she said.
"But I think that saying to people, 'Hey, listen. Hypertension is a risk and you should go find out how much of a risk it is to you.'" Of that approach, she said, "Why not?"