Over-the-counter brands aren't the only ones that recognize the benefits of advertising to an aging population; Relafen saw a dramatic sales increase after it began running ads. ANALGESICS SEE BIG PROSPECTS FROM ARTHRITIS

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A looming arthritis epidemic is shifting the direction of pain relief marketing.

The aging of the baby boom generation is fueling a major increase in arthritis sufferers, and marketers are launching new products, new packaging and new advertising to win their loyalty.

In a move being closely monitored by non-profit pain relief groups, Johnson & Johnson's McNeil Consumer Products Co. and the Arthritis Foundation will launch a line of analgesics this fall under the non-profit group's name.

J&J will spend $30 million to market the line, to be priced lower than typical branded analgesics but higher than private labels. The campaign will include $16 million in advertising from Barrie Curtis Spies Creative Services, New York; 30 million samples through direct mail and on-pack coupons; and 400 million coupons mailed by Donnelley Marketing's Carol Wright, Oakbrook Terrace, Ill., and the Arthritis Foundation.

A free one-year membership to the foundation will be inside every product package and available through in-store displays from ActMedia, Darien, Conn.

The foundation itself will get more than $1 million annually from product sales, with the proceeds earmarked for scientific research.

J&J's move is part of a new focus on arthritis care by the company; its Tylenol brand, the No. 1 product in the nearly $3 billion analgesics category, now comes with a new easy-to-open cap.

Both steps are meant to thwart gains from Procter & Gamble Co.'s new Aleve brand, an over-the-counter version of Naprosyn, the leading prescription drug for arthritis.

Similarly, Upjohn Co.'s Motrin IB and American Home Products Corp.'s Advil are now introducing new easy-to-open packaging.

"Arthritis care is an increasingly important part of the market as more and more consumers enter that stage of life," said Thomas Laughlin, corporate VP-general manager at Upjohn. "Because arthritis is a chronic condition, there is a great deal of consumption once you win a consumer's loyalty. Thirty percent of OTC pain relief consumption is for arthritis, a close second to headaches at 33%."

Eastman Kodak Co.'s Sterling Winthrop unit is now running a print ad, created by previous agency N W Ayer, New York, for Bayer aspirin that notes the product can help reduce arthritis inflammation as well as pain, while Tylenol cannot. BBDO Worldwide now handles.

"Together with aspirin's advantages in helping to prevent cardiovascular disease, reducing the swelling of arthritis is an important product distinction that we need to use competitively," said a Sterling spokesman.

Even prescription drugs for arthritis are reaching out to consumers in growing numbers.

SmithKline Beecham attributes a print campaign, created by Ogilvy & Mather and running in magazines such as Reader's Digest, Time and U.S. News and World Report since March, for a 52% increase in sales of Relafen in the second quarter.

Searle & Co. began a print campaign via Gross Townsend Frank Hoffman for its once-a-day arthritis drug Daypro in April issues of People, TV Guide and Good Housekeeping, among others.

"It's our first direct-to-consumer effort," a spokeswoman said. "Arthritis sufferers are very educated and active in looking for new pain relievers. They play a big role in bringing drugs to the attention of their doctors."

Even food and drink marketers are getting on the bandwagon.

Jogging in a Jug, a juice-vinegar drink from Third Option Laboratories, Tuscumbia, Ala., has won a near cult status in the Southeast as an arthritis reliever.

Third Option doesn't make any health claims for its product, but CEO Danny McWilliams is aware of the drink's mystique.

"Jogging in a Jug is apple juice, grape juice and cider mixed from an old family recipe," he said. "We won't claim it does anything, but it's sure worth $5.99 to find out for yourself."

David Williams, a principal at the New England Consulting Group, Westport, Conn., expects a growing number of homeopathic drugs and foods will benefit from a reputation for arthritis relief.

There are strict government guidelines for marketing health claims, he noted, "but there's a lot that goes on through public relations, editorial placements, etc. that helps to build a reputation."

Some 40 million Americans suffer from arthritis today. Figures released in June by the Centers for Disease Control estimate that by the year 2020, 59 million, or 18.2%, of the population will develop the condition.

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