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Double-digit sales losses and evaporated ad budgets are spelling trouble for ketoprofen pain relievers, less than 21/2 years after the Orudis KT and Actron brands were introduced.

Sales of American Home Products Corp.'s Orudis KT plummeted 42.1% to $19.5 million and Bayer Corp.'s Actron dropped 57% to $8.1 million for the 52 weeks ended March 29, according to Information Resources Inc.

"They were obviously well short of expectations," said Don Stuart, principal at consultancy Cannondale Associates.

The hope was the brands would incrementally boost the static $2.5 billion analgesics market. Yet at their heights in early 1997, Orudis KT only reached about $36 million in sales and Actron about $20 million.


Some industry executives are now saying Bayer could pull Actron from the market.

At this point, Orudis KT might be able to increase interest with special pricing, but for the lower-selling Actron, "it's going to be hard to maintain a position on the [drugstore] shelf, "said Paul Kelly, president of Silvermine Consulting.

Neither Bayer nor AHP would comment.

Prescription Orudis had sales of $100 million in 1994, and had the benefit of hitting the over-the-counter market in November 1995 several months ahead of Actron, and with a larger ad budget.

In 1996, ketoprofen ad spending topped $71 million, with Orudis' contribution at $46 million, according to Competitive Media Reporting. Last year, the combined total barely exceeded $4 million, nearly all behind Orudis.

"The initial spending was pretty formidable; they got behind Orudis," Mr. Kelly said. "But everybody had reservations about the brand name -- it didn't exactly roll off your tongue.

"The biggest problem with ketoprofen was differentiating it from ibuprofen. The only point of difference was the smaller dosage."


Indeed, Actron compared its 12.5 milligram dose to the 200 milligrams of AHP's Advil and the 650 milligrams of Johnson & Johnson's Tylenol. The ad tagline from BBDO Worldwide, New York, was "The pain reliever that's so small because it's so powerful."

Orudis also compared itself to larger doses of other products, focusing on its green pill and packaging and calling itself "The potent medicine for pain."

Partners & Shevack initially handled Orudis, but the brand is currently unassigned.

Mr. Kelly said that less medicine appears to be a difficult selling point.

"Do people want less dosage?" he asked. "It's difficult for a drug company to say, `Take less drugs,' just like it would be for [Coca-Cola Co.] to say, `Drink less Coke.' "

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