"We got off to a quick start and quickly eclipsed Tagamet as the No. 2 brand," says Bob Casale, Warner Lambert's VP-acid relief products and the shepherd of Zantac 75. "Had we launched before the others or simultaneously, our success would have been even greater."
To make up for lost time, the company started with a category-bursting $125 million "Z-Day" marketing extravaganza, which included lighting major-city office building windows in the shape of a Z. Actor Brian Dennehy endorsed the brand, from churning seas and fiery volcanoes, in advertising from J. Walter Thompson USA, New York.
Since then, the battle has been fought through the brand's prescription heritage and with specific claims. After approval, each OTC brand worked to add claims about length and speed of action, as well as whether to take before or after eating.
Late last year, Zantac 75 added the "faster onset than Pepcid AC" claim to its advertising.
As the skyrocketing category started to slow from 23% growth to 16%, Zantac 75 hit $162.9 million in sales for the year through April 27, according to Information Resources Inc. That's good enough for 10.4% of the market.
"Product differentiation is very difficult in the OTC arena," says Mr. Casale.
New ads, asking "When is heartburn worst for you?," focus on the triggers of stress and food, as well as nighttime troubles.
Recognizing the confusing claims of each, Mr. Casale says, without an intended pun, "It's a lot to digest in a short period of time."