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Aleve, the new nonprescription pain reliever from Procter & Gamble Co., has done more than relieve a few thousand headaches since its introduction last June. It has injected much-needed new zing into the introduction of package goods products.

Some industry executives had questioned whether the "introduction" marketing technique had been brushed aside in the race to acquire existing companies and products. Marketers drastically cut back new-product spending in the early 1990s, eliminating research & development in favor of bolstering the bottom line.

But what's happened is that while profits in many instances have grown, companies have neglected to lay the groundwork to ensure long-term growth.

"There is still a vital role for new products, and companies again are beginning to understand [new products] are an opportunity to grow business," says David Olson, VP-director of new-product planning group at Leo Burnett Co., Chicago. "Not every product has to be an $100 million hit like [Nabisco Brands'] SnackWell's; it's just as important to create new $30 million products that bring new value to the consumer."

What makes Aleve stand out among the 21,000-plus products introduced in 1994 is it's a classic case of how to muscle into a category and permanently rearrange the playing field.

P&G introduced Aleve with a $100 million advertising and promotion campaign, blitzing the airwaves and filling the aisles of the nation's food, drug and discount outlets with a program guaranteed to make sure everyone knew there was a new alternative to Advil, Excedrin and Tylenol.

By September, it was clear that Aleve was a hit. Sales of Aleve's 24-count caplets alone posted sales of $3.389 million, according to A.C. Nielsen Co.'s ScanTrack tracking system, for the three-month measuring period ended Sept. 10, 1994. That gave Aleve, an over-the-counter version of naproxen sodium, a 6.5% share of the $2.6 billion analgesic category, roughly twice the share of American Home Products Corp.'s Advil.

It stands out among the other top performers, as tracked by Nielsen during the same time period.

Promotional items like Nestle's "Lion King" candy bar, which pulled in $2.9 million in sales; line extensions, like Campbell Soup's Prego Zesty Extra Chunky spaghetti sauce, which posted sales of $2.3 million; and new multipacks like Michelob Light 18-packs made up the rest of Nielsen's third-quarter top 10 SKU list.

"I don't see supermarket retailers clamoring for 21,000 new products," says Tom Vierhile, general manager of researcher Marketing Intelligence Service.

New products "by their very nature are risky," says Gary Stibel, founder-principal of New England Consulting Group. "But it's the new products that fueled long-term growth, and somehow, that's an element that many companies seem to have forgotten."

According to Towne-Oller, a subsidiary of Information Resources Inc., the over-the-counter analgesics category grew 8.3% to $2.6 billion in November 1994 from a year previous, the growth attributed primarily to Aleve's introduction.

New products fill the need for continuing excitement at retail, and the need for corporate long-term growth. "Consumers look to national brands for new ideas, for quality products," says Mr. Olson. "It's something national advertisers have done for decades. They just need to rediscover it."

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