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In a continuing effort to save its solid but slipping Mylanta franchise, Johnson & Johnson/Merck this month extends that established brand name into the blockbuster segment of over-the-counter acid blockers.

Mylanta AR will become the fifth entry in the category, but the first with an already established OTC brand.

"This is completely in response to real, demonstrated consumer need," said Bill McComb, VP-marketing for J&J/Merck. "Our research shows 50% of consumers have yet to try an acid reducer and they told us they generally stick with products they know."


Ads behind Mylanta AR from Healthcare Connection, New York, break this month and are likely to note the Mylanta brand now offers consumers a choice of long-lasting relief from the acid blocker or fast action from the antacid.

Mr. McComb declined to specify what claims Mylanta AR would make-a contentious issue that must be supported by proper studies and Food & Drug Administration approval-but said the benefits would be the same as topselling sister brand Pepcid AC.

Unlike Pepcid, however, ad spending for Mylanta AR will be modest. J&J/Merck launched Pepcid AC with $100 million in marketing in 1995; Mylanta received $36 million in support in '95 and $25.4 million through September 1996, according to Competitive Media Reporting.

The marketer has already made several attempts to reinvigorate Mylanta, including new packaging last spring, fresh advertising and a children's extension in July. Nevertheless, sales of the now third-ranked stomach remedy tumbled 17.2% to $142.9 million for the year ended Oct. 27, per Information Resources Inc.


"Clearly, there is a gun to Mylanta's head," said Don Stuart, consulting partner at Cannondale Associates. "It's a stopgap measure to reposition the brand and transcend both worlds [of antacids and acid controllers] with a foot in each."

Other established antacid brands are expected to follow with similar extensions, Mr. Stuart said, and he speculated one might find success with a combination ant-acid/acid blocker.

Antacids suffered a heavy hit after acid blockers first crossed over from prescription in spring 1995. Many antacids defensively came in with new advertising emphasizing speed of action, a selling point over the longer lasting but slower blockers.

So far, the success of acid blockers has depended on the order of their introduction to the market.


Pepcid AC-with $251 million in sales-was the first and took over Mylanta's No. 1 rank in early 1996, followed by SmithKline Beecham's Tagamet HB, with sales of $117.2 million, and $84.5 million from Warner-Lambert Consumer Healthcare's Zantac 75. Sales of American Home Products Corp.'s Axid AR, introduced last fall, are not yet available.

As an extension of an established brand, Mr. McComb contended, Mylanta AR will

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