New OTC Brands Quickly Become Household Names

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Sandoz Pharmaceuticals Corp. has traded on the public's growing fascination with medical issues to turn the Tavist name into a megabrand.

Tavist-D, a combination decongestant and antihistamine, is the fastest-growing cold medication on the market.

Given that Tavist-D and antihistamine-only Tavist-1 only arrived in September 1992 and are therefore growing from nothing, that may not seem like much. But dollar sales are soaring: market analysts put the Tavist take already from all retail outlets at around $100 million.

Tavist's growth stems in large part from its origins as a prescription drug. Sandoz and its agency, Bloom FCA, New York, have used that heritage in everything from the products' packaging, which trumpets its "original prescription strength" to its current ad campaign.

"Switching from prescription to over-the-counter status is the single most successful way to launch a new product," says David Williams, a principal with New England Consulting. "It's also the most time-consuming, risky and expensive way. But when it works, it works."

Ethical-drug development convinces consumers an item is powerful and appeals to today's medically savvy shoppers. "The fact that Tavist is an Rx to OTC switch was a definite plus," says Mike Perlmutter, senior consultant for the pharmaceutical group at research consultancy Kline & Co. "Doctors liked it as a prescription product, and consumers are aware of that."

In the mature and highly competitive cold market, Tavist-D has been able to characterize itself as something truly different, another key to its success.

Another Sandoz product, Theraflu, is making its presence felt in the cold-relief field, largely because it was the first hot liquid cold remedy in what is now an increasingly crowded niche.

"It was a standard product but it was an entirely new form. You need something really new to get consumer's attention in this market," says Mr. Williams.

Other factors favoring Tavist-D is that it treats more than one symptom and that it is a 12-hour medication.

Positioned to steal some of Tavist's thunder is Efidac/24, from Ciba-Geigy's Ciba Consumer Pharmaceuticals unit. It's the first and, so far, only 24-hour decongestant on the market.

"People are looking to medicate less often," says Mr. Perlmutter.

If Tavist continues to reinforce its prescription-strength image, it should develop nicely, according to analysts.

"If something's working, don't get tired of it before the consumer does," says Mr. Williams. "The single biggest OTC product on the market is Tylenol, which has been saying it's hospital-tested for years. It's still saying it."

Both Tavist, with a $45 million campaign, and Efidac/24, with $40 million in support from Jordan, McGrath, Case & Taylor, New York, enjoy the kind of marketing efforts needed to build cold-remedy brands today. As in so many other categories, store brands are coming on strong.

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