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Business Observer Friday, Jun. 3, 2011 10 years ago

Rub It In

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The tricky art of bilingual marketing meets science at one Gulf Coast pharmaceutical firm. The project holds big potential.
by: Mark Gordon Managing Editor

WellSpring Pharmaceutical Corp. has attacked a big issue with a small, albeit icky, solution: antifungal foot ointment.

The issue at hand is bilingual marketing for over-the-counter medical products. Few pharmaceutical firms have pulled it off, with regulations and costs two of the biggest hurdles.

“Everyone talks about doing it, but you don't see a whole lot of it done,” says Sean Griffin, director of sales and marketing of consumer brands at Sarasota-based WellSpring. “I figured this will be a good niche for us.”

The niche lies in Micatin, a once-popular over-the-counter cream that treats skin infections such as ringworm, jock itch and athlete's foot. WellSpring bought the U.S. and Canadian rights to Micatin in 2008 from McNeil Consumer Healthcare, a division of Johnson & Johnson. WellSpring, with seven employees in Florida and an office in Canada, bought Micatin and two brands, Emetrol, an antacid, and Glaxal Base, a moisturizing cream. WellSpring officials declined to comment on the price it paid for the brands.

Micatin has a storied history. It debuted in 1973, when it was called MicaTin Cream and available only by prescription, according to WellSpring. The cream uses the active ingredient miconazole.

It went over-the-counter in 1984. Sales ballooned to $3.4 million, partially because of popular ad campaigns that included the “Step up to the Mic” tagline.

But Micatin sales dropped significantly by the time WellSpring bought it. “It's not a brand you can find in lots of stores right now,” admits Griffin.

That's why Griffin hired Pedro Perez, founder of Sarasota-based Nuevo Advertising. The firm specializes in bilingual marketing, advertising and public relations.

Griffin's challenge to Perez: Create a bilingual marketing campaign that will re-launch Micatin in the Hispanic marketplace — without ignoring English-speaking consumers. “It was literally as open-ended as it gets,” says Perez. “It was up to us to come up with the idea.”

WellSpring pursued Hispanic customers based on demographics that project growth in Hispanics, both in Florida and nationwide. Plus, Hispanics participate in high numbers of recreational sports, especially soccer, which makes them good target customers, says Perez.

Perez considered all aspects of Micatin that could appeal to Hispanics, from how they will use it to the colors and design of the package. Building brand loyalty was also a key component to the early strategy.

Still, turning a near-dormant American product into one that resonates with both English and Spanish speaking customers is laborious, Perez discovered. “When you communicate to the masses,” says Perez, “it could get very complicated.”

One complication was regulatory compliance. For example, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration heavily monitors English-to-Spanish translations, says Perez, down to the thickness of lines and boldness of letters. Some words in English don't even exist in Spanish, further muddying the situation. “They go over everything you say to the T,” Perez says.

Nuevo completed the Micatin brand and packaging redesign late last year. The revised Micatin arrived in some independent drug stores in early 2011. Griffin plans to expand the distribution over the next few years.

While the campaign is too early to judge it on sales, Griffin says merely getting it going is a minor victory. When you have an “orphan brand,” says Griffin, “you can leave it in the pasture or you can give it new life.”

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