Just weeks after it burst onto the scene in mid-June as the first new analgesic since ibuprofen made its debut 10 years earlier, Aleve was the No. 3 pain reliever.
With a 6.5% monthly share of the $2.6 billion analgesic category by August, Aleve had roughly twice the share of American Home Products Corp.'s Advil three months after it became the first ibuprofen to hit store shelves.
It's still too early to say how Aleve, an over-the-counter version of naproxen sodium, will fare long term. Indeed, sales dropped slightly in September and October as Aleve lost its grip on the No. 3 slot. But the initial showing got noticed.
The introduction would have been hard to miss. Aleve is getting $100 million in marketing support in its first year, including $60 million in advertising via D'Arcy Masius Benton & Bowles, New York.
Massive professional and retail efforts were launched well in advance of the product's debut and P&G went all out to ensure Aleve got to stores quickly.
"We reached more than 90% distribution in all three outlets-food, drug and mass merchandise-within the first five weeks of the introduction, and achieved our year one distribution goal by week nine," said a P&G spokeswoman.
"This is the most interesting story going on in health and beauty care right now," said Paul Kelly, president of Silvermine Consulting Group, Westport, Conn. "In terms of Procter's reputation, they need to make this work. New products and healthcare brands are not their strong suit. And the other guys aren't going to just sit by and let them take it."
But if Aleve is to grow to anywhere near the $200 million mark P&G predicted for its first full year, analysts say the company will need to sharpen its advertising approach.
Print ads, featuring the brand's tagline, "All day long. All day strong," have been hard hitting, comparing Aleve to other brands by name, an unusual step for P&G. But TV spots "have a real Mrs. Olsen, Folgers coffee kind of bland feel to them," Mr. Kelly said. "Analgesics users are savvy consumers, they need a more sophisticated approach if they're going to go beyond that first-time buy."
Initially at least, Aleve seems to be growing the category overall rather than stealing share from other major brands. All analgesics combined were up 3% for the 52 weeks ended Aug. 28-as were the three other top brands, according to Information Resources Inc.
No. 1 Tylenol, an acetaminophen from Johnson & Johnson, was up 4.2% to $871 million, for a 33.3% share; Advil rose 3.8% to $326.6 million, for 12.5% share. Bristol-Myers Squibb Co.'s Excedrin increased 1.9% to $161.4 million, for a 6.2% share. Combined private labels were a major force, up 9.8% to $559.2 million, for a 21.4% share.
"Tylenol is holding strong in the face of Aleve," said a J&J spokesman. "Aleve seems to have taken some people who were on prescription naproxen sodium over-the-counter. And as far as existing OTCs, the principal losers seem to be [secondary] ibuprofens like Motrin, Nuprin and private labels."
J&J has responded forcefully and on multiple fronts to Aleve's introduction. To counter naproxen sodium's popularity with arthritis sufferers, the company introduced new easy-to-open packaging and joined with the Arthritis Foundation to launch a brand under the non-profit group's name.
The marketer addressed Aleve's 12-hour effectiveness claim by introducing Tylenol Extended Relief with an 8-hour dosing. A 12-hour brand, Zymaxin, is now awaiting Food & Drug Administration approval.
J&J ads even refer to Aleve by name as, together with ibuprofens and aspirins, less gentle to the stomach than Tylenol, handled by Saatchi & Saatchi Advertising, New York.
Advil's current Young & Rubicam ads feature five different spots for arthritis pain, including one that dovetails nicely with the company's lawsuit charging Aleve's 12-hour dosing is because the product can't be taken safely more often, not because it lasts longer than Advil.
The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court last August in Newark, N.J., is still pending.
The Advil ad alluding to Aleve is interesting because it takes one of Aleve's most important attributes-its 12 hour claim-and turns it into a potential hazard.
"What if you take this and your pain comes back?" a woman asks her mother. "You may be in pain for hours before you can take more."
Tylenol, Excedrin and Aleve all lost share in October compared with September, but Advil was up, from 12% to 13.4%.
Excedrin is locked in the fiercest battle with Aleve. In September, Excedrin rose to tie Aleve for third place at 6.3%, and in October it regained the No. 3 spot with a 6.2% share as Aleve dropped to fourth with a 5.1% share. Bristol-Myers has been deluging consumers with a bevy of new spots from Bozell Worldwide that focus on Excedrin as a headache-reliever and even pitch Tylenol as the brand for everything else.