Expanding Airborne Doubles Spending

With Rollout of Sleep Aid, Drug Maker's Marketing Budget Hits $30 Million

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COlUMBUS, Ohio (AdAge.com) -- Now that it's stolen the No. 1 spot in the cold, allergy and sinus tablets category from venerable brands such as Sudafed and Benadryl, upstart Airborne is gunning to do the same thing in sleep aids.

A sleep-aid line extension from the folksy cold-prevention brand invented by a schoolteacher is one of two Airborne-branded products hitting retail shelves this fall. To back the launches, Airborne is doubling advertising spending to $30 million over the next year via a multimedia campaign from Ten United, Columbus, Ohio.

Spots will stick with the message "Germs are everywhere. Protect yourself with Airborne," and include the obnoxious, purple germ-fighting character that made its debut in late 2005 in Airborne's first broadcast campaign.

The jump in spending comes as the brand increased sales from $90 million a year ago to more than $200 million in fiscal 2006, and the company is on track to reach $300 million in its fiscal 2007 year begun in April, according to CEO Elise Donahue.

The formual for Airborne Nighttime is essentially the same as the original, but the Alka-Seltzer-like tablet instead is dropped in hot water and has an apple-cider flavor "with added ingredients to help you get a good night's rest," said Ms. Donahue, a former Kimberly-Clark and Procter & Gamble marketing executive.

Whether Airborne can make the sleep aid stand out amid a slew of competitors in the drug-heavy category remains to be seen, but the natural ingredients do offer consumers an alternative.

The company's other product launch, Airborne On-the-Go, is designed as a single-serve powder for mixing into bottled water.

Since taking the helm in May 2005, Ms. Donahue has made major strides in expanding distribution to new retailers, including Costco and Target, and has gone from regional to national distribution at Wal-Mart Stores. Along the way, Airborne also persuaded retail partners to give the brand more shelf space and now averages four different products at retail, up from just one a year ago.

Ms. Donahue said Airborne remains disciplined and is only launching products that represent new uses for consumers. And although the brand is spending heavy on TV, it's still working hard to spur word of mouth.

"The loyal following is tremendous, but there are so many more people who have still yet to try it," Ms. Donahue said. "Our goal is to make sure everyone hears about the benefits-and get people to try it."

A recent attitude and usage study revealed that 80% of first-time Airborne users planned to buy more of the product in the next 12 months, according to the company.
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