Pain Patch Brand Tries to Put Hurt on Tylenol

Japan's Salonpas Ramps Up Marketing in Wake of Recall

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BATAVIA, Ohio ( -- Johnson & Johnson's pain may mean a gain for a little-known pain-patch brand.

Salonpas' biggest-ever campaign launches as other pain-relief brands deal with quality-related recalls.
Salonpas' biggest-ever campaign launches as other pain-relief brands deal with quality-related recalls.
Starting May 24, Japan's Salonpas hopes to make a name for itself in the U.S. with its biggest-ever campaign, which will arrive as J&J's Tylenol and Motrin brands reel from the company's fourth quality-related recall in a year. Salonpas will focus its efforts largely on social media, where J&J has been getting lambasted as of late over its quality woes.

The recall "is an opportunity for us," said Tsuyoshi Ayabe, director-marketing for Hisamitsu Pharmaceutical, maker of Salonpas, which seeks to distribute more than 2 million samples of its pain patch via Facebook and Twitter.

Salonpas may be little known in the U.S., but its maker, Hisamitsu, has been around since 1847 in Japan. The patches have been sold since 1934 there, and in U.S. pharmacies since the 1980s. But Hisamitsu only got Food and Drug Administration approval for over-the-counter distribution of the patches in the U.S. in 2008.

J&J has been struggling through a massive recall earlier this year that sent its U.S. over-the-counter sales down 25% in the first quarter. Earlier this month, it launched another recall of many of the same products, notably Tylenol and Motrin products, along with others, and it has temporarily shut down a plant in Pennsylvania as it looks to get to the bottom of the manufacturing problems.

Salonpas is also running TV ads in New York and Los Angeles from ADK America, New York and Los Angeles, and it is supplementing the social-media sampling at races, street fairs, arthritis walks and other events. It will also run magazine ads and prominently display its website,, in magazine and TV ads.

Mr. Ayabe didn't want to play up his big rival's woes, but said the shelf space at least temporarily surrendered by J&J products could mean more for Salonpas, which recently hired its first U.S. national sales rep. Currently, Salonpas is distributed in big U.S. drug chains, including Walgreens, CVS and Rite Aid, but not in grocery or mass accounts.

The idea behind the patch is delivering analgesics topically to the site of the pain, so the medicine gets there faster, with particular use for back and joint pain.

Meanwhile, the news isn't getting any better for J&J. The FDA last week extended its investigation to all of McNeil Consumer Healthcare's manufacturing facilities, beyond those in Pennsylvania and Puerto Rico, where quality problems prompted the past two recalls.

Salonpas' campaign breaks three days before Colleen Goggins, worldwide chairman of J&J's consumer group, is scheduled to testify before a House committee about the recalls. She's standing in for Chairman-CEO William Weldon, who's recuperating from back surgery he had last week.

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