The Wall Street Journal Interactive Edition -- December 19, 1997
Sports Figures Tout
Rogaine for Pharmacia
By YUMIKO ONO
Staff Reporter of THE WALL STREET JOURNAL
The next time you see football coach Mike Holmgren prowling the sidelines,
take a really close look at the top of his head.
For the past four months, the head coach for the Green Bay Packers has been
secretly massaging his scalp with Rogaine Extra Strength for Men. Next
month, he is expected to reveal his activity in a television ad for drug company
Pharmacia & Upjohn.
"Every Sunday, I've got 60,000 friends staring at
my head," says Mr. Holmgren in the ad. He
sneers at an old picture of himself with a
noticeable bald spot. "Every hair's a big win."
Mr. Holmgren is one of six sports stars enlisted
by Pharmacia & Upjohn, as it gears up for its
most ambitious marketing push to launch a new, extra-strength version of
Rogaine. The product, which was approved last month and is expected to be in
stores next week, promises to grow back an average of 45% more hair than the
Plagued by heated competition, the U.S.-Swedish company is betting that
candid testimonials by highly visible sports stars would encourage more
balding sports fans to rush to the drugstores. But it's a risky strategy, because
the drug works differently on different people, and not everybody grows back
hair. So Pharmacia & Upjohn is operating under a heavy veil of secrecy: If the
athletes grow back their hair, they tell their story in an ad. But if they don't, well
then, they spare themselves -- and the company -- the embarrassment by
So far, Karl Malone, the power forward of the Utah Jazz basketball team, has
gone public with his hair story after seeing results in five months, and is
scheduled to appear in an ad early next year. But the other four are laboriously
rubbing the clear liquid into their scalps twice a day in anonymity, while they
closely monitor their scalp situation.
Pharmacia & Upjohn is scrambling to expand its business in an increasingly
competitive and skeptical market. Sales of the regular Rogaine, introduced
over-the-counter last year amid much fanfare, were damped by grim statistics
that only 26% of men report "dense to moderate" hair growth after four months.
Cheaper generic products are flooding the market, at prices as low as half the
$30 price tag for a month's supply of Rogaine. Drug maker Merck, meanwhile,
may gain government approval as early as Friday to market a prescription drug
for growing hair called Propecia.
In the year ended Nov. 9, Rogaine sales dropped 9.4% to $83.3 million in
supermarkets, drug stores and mass-merchandising stores, according to
Information Resources, a Chicago-based firm that tracks product sales.
Officials at Pharmacia & Upjohn say they are confident that the new Rogaine
will be far more appealing than the old version to the nation's 35 million balding
men. The extra-strength version contains 5% of the active ingredient minoxidil,
compared with 2% for the regular version. While uncomfortable side effects
remain, such as itchy, dry scalp, the new stuff starts showing results in two
months, they say, compared with four months for the original version. To
protect itself from generic competition, the company is hoping to get patent
protection for the next three years. A decision is expected in January.
To kick off its marketing offensive, Pharmacia & Upjohn says it's planning to
flood the tube during the New Year's Day football games. There will be nine TV
ads for Rogaine during ABC's Rose Bowl, Sugar Bowl and Citrus Bowl games,
including the Holmgren ad, along with a Rogaine Extra Strength Bowl Report
during halftime. The company, which recently selected Jordan, McGrath, Case
& Taylor as its agency, is expected to boost its ad budget to about $50 million
to $60 million next year, compared with an estimated $30 million for 1997.
Ken Vargha, director of hair care at Pharmacia & Upjohn, says he scoured the
sports world for hair-thinning candidates, then flew out to meet them one by
one to persuade them to take up the Rogaine challenge. To his surprise, he
says many were quite receptive. Mr. Malone, the basketball star, recently
exposed before-and-after pictures of the top of his head. He said in a taped
interview that using Rogaine was easier than shaving his head, which took 35
to 45 minutes, and that it "delivers for the Mailman," his long-held nickname.
But there's at least one hairless athlete who isn't about to touch the stuff:
Michael Jordan. Mr. Vargha says he approached the Chicago Bulls basketball
star anyway, on the off-chance that he might be interested. The answer was
no, Mr. Vargha says in disappointment. "His shaved-head look had become his
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