NEWPORT BEACH – The latest anti-aging treatment from the makers of Botox won’t hit the national market for a couple of months, but Mary Ann Hammer catches a sneak preview every time she looks in the mirror.
Last week, Hammer received a free injection of Juvederm, a facial filler that plumps out laugh lines, from her Newport Beach ophthalmologist Richard Weiss. Hammer and her doctor are among a select group trying out Allergan’s filler before the official launch in January. The limited rollout centers on a survey to test Juvederm’s results and how long they last, company officials say.
“Dr. Weiss called me and said, ‘We have some thing new. Do you want to try it?’” recalls Hammer, 48. “I couldn’t get in my car fast enough.”
When Weiss recruited Hammer to join the trial, she’d never heard of Juvederm.. But she certainly trusted the reputation of the Irvine maker of the Botox wrinkle relaxer, a big player in the $30 billion global beauty industry.
“It went in smooth. It looks really, really natural,” Hammer says of the Juvederm.
Marketing experts call the trial release a smart way to create buzz. An Atlanta doctor, for example, is promotion himself by touting that he was selected for the Juvederm trial.
“Word of mouth among the affluent is a very effective promotional method,” says Ron Kruthz, who runs the American Affluence Research Center in Miami. “The affluent really like to know what their peers are doing.”
Allergan spokeswoman Caroline Van Hove won’t say how many doctors were chosen to participate in the study. Eligible patients must have previously tried Juvederm’s chief competitor, Restylane, which has been sold in the United States since 2004. They will be asked to return to the doctor’s office at three, six and nine months to evaluate results.
The company also is encouraging excitement among employees. Recently, Allergan sales reps were given iPods engraved with the Juvederm logo.
Allergan acquired Juvederm earlier this year as part of its purchase of Inamed, a Santa Barbara company that also makes breast implants and a weight-loss surgery device called the Lap Band.
Not everyone buys into the company’s survey strategy for launching a new medical product. Connie Pechmann, a professor of marketing at UC Irvine, says if Allergan really wants to know how Juvederm compares with Restylane, it should conduct a scientific trial where participants don’t know which product the receive and doctors evaluate the results.
“Personally, I’m disappointed to see Allergan doing this because it’s not scientific and it’s not legitimate,” Pechamnn says. “If they ask people to try this product for free that has the Allergan name on it, that’s going to create a halo effect. People are going to be predisposed to like the product and think it works really well because Allergan makes Botox.”
Van Hove says the trial lets doctors experience how the product works in their offices rather than in a clinical environment. Blind studies are also planned.
“That doesn’t replace a head-to-head comparative study that we will be initiating,” she says.
Pechmann says the trial gives Allergan the chance to quickly and affordable conduct the kind of self-reported market research used in the cosmetic industry while limited availability fuels demand. “You see the lines of people waiting for an Elmo and then everyone wants an Elmo,” she says. “The doctors are going to feel special, the patients are going to feel special. That’s going to create buzz.”
The U.S. Market for facial fillers is about $175 million, and it grew by 25 percent this year, according to Allergan’s research.
Prices vary by doctor. Weiss charges $600 for one syringe of Restlyane.
“I think you’re going to see Allergan grow this market substantially,” Weiss says.
“They have the distribution network and the relationship with doctors. I think you’re going to hear a lot more about facial fillers because of the large company that’s involved.”
Mary Ann Hammer, 62, of Newport Coast wanted to try Juvederm because of the folds in her face from “always smiling, laughing and having a good time.” On a Friday afternoon, Weiss numbs her face with a shot to the gums, a trick he learned from a dentist. He puts on magnifying goggles so he can see every fine line. He begins injecting a clear, thick liquid into Hammer’s skin.
From one syringe, he injects 10 times on her left side before moving the needle to the right side. She doesn’t feel a thing.
In a matter of minutes, he blots away specks of blood and hands her a mirror.
“Oh my God!” Hammer gasps. “They’re gone. Oh my God. I can’t believe it!”
Hammer likes the results so much she asked Dr. Weiss if she can come back for another injections around her mouth.
Not until January.