American Home Products Corp., the parent of Advil marketer Whitehall-Robins Healthcare, last week sued P&G and partner Syntex Corp. for "unwarranted and unsubstantiated" advertising and promotion. The suit seeks to halt the claims.
Aleve's claims of 12-hour pain relief are false, the suit filed in U.S. District Court in Newark, N.J., contends.
"There are no data to show that Aleve provides longer-lasting pain relief than Advil," said a Whitehall-Robins statement. The company contends Aleve's 12-hour dosing means the product cannot be safely taken as often as Advil, not that it lasts longer.
P&G's ads-handled by D'Arcy Masius Benton & Bowles, New York, as part of a $100 million marketing campaign-directly compare Aleve with three competitors.
Under the headline "Before you take Tylenol or Advil again, get a second opinion," print ads run a graph with Aleve showing 8-to-12 hours of pain relief, Johnson & Johnson's Tylenol at 6-to-8 hours, Advil at 4-to-6 hours and Sterling Winthrop's Bayer at 4 hours.
It is unusual for P&G to name competitors in ads. But Aleve's longer-lasting action is its biggest selling point and in a category as crowded, competitive and mature as pain relief, market share is the name of the game.
"We certainly didn't expect our competitors to sit idly by, though we're disappointed by the misleading statements American Home Products is making about Aleve," said P&G Chairman Ed Artzt.
"Everything we're saying in our advertising and marketing activ-ities was reviewed and cleared by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration before we launched this product," he said.
As the first new over-the-counter analgesic in 10 years, Aleve has stirred up strong interest at the retail level. According to information service EMS, Deerfield, Ill., supermarket scanner data showed Aleve was in more than 92% of nearly 600 stores monitored the first week it was launched, June 13-19. Aleve's market share in the stores examined was 7.5% by volume at the end of the fourth week.
By comparison, No. 1 Tylenol had a 33.5% dollar share of the $2.6 billion analgesics market for the 52 weeks ended July 3, followed by Advil's 12.5% and Bristol-Myers Squibb's Excedrin with 6.2%, reported Information Services Inc.
However the lawsuit shakes out, both P&G and American Home may have made their respective points.
"Even if they're eventually made to stop running these ads, P&G may have had enough time to make an impression in consumers' minds that Aleve is long lasting," said Kate Griffie, manager of the pharmaceutical group for consultancy Kline & Co., Fairfield, N.J.
"This is a category where advertising matters, the message matters a great deal. Just look at the boost Advil got over [Bristol-Myers'] Nuprin when ibuprofens hit the market 10 years ago, all because Advil had a six-week advance and was able to make claims Nuprin couldn't" due to licensing agreements, she said.
If P&G wants to position Aleve as long-lasting, American Home Products is seeking a fast-acting image for Advil, said Paul Kelly, president of Silvermine Consulting Group, Westport, Conn.
"AHP wants to differentiate itself-they all want to differentiate themselves," he said. "There are so many different stories emerging in the analgesics market. [Bristol-Myers'] Bufferin is doing its headache thing. I'm waiting for someone to try to corner the market on earache pain relief."
Nearly all analgesic marketers have been responding to Aleve with greater support and stronger targeting.
J&J last month introduced Tylenol Extended Relief to counter Aleve's long-lasting image; this fall it introduces the Arthritis Foundation line to deflect support Aleve may gain among arthritis sufferers (see story on Page 38). Aleve, made of naproxen sodium, is an OTC version of the leading arthritis prescription drug.
Even beleaguered Bayer is getting new support via a $20 million ad campaign from agency BBDO Worldwide, New York, focusing on the aspirin brand's relief for arthritis and other body pain.
P&G continues to be named as one of the companies most interested in buying the Sterling Winthrop OTC drug business, or at least its Bayer line, from parent Eastman Kodak Co.
"It's interesting that Kodak now says it will divide up its Lehn & Fink [household goods] division," said Kline & Co.'s Ms. Griffie. "There's been a lot of scuttlebutt about Kodak doing the same in the healthcare end. The question is, is P&G interested just in the Bayer brand or in building more critical mass in healthcare overall."