Pepto powers P&G back to category lead

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Procter & Gamble Co. is giving its competitors indigestion.

Long the owner of some of the sleepiest brands in over-the-counter drugs, P&G has rocketed from No. 3 to No. 1 in the past 10 months in the gastrointestinal category by buttressing blockbuster Prilosec with offbeat initiatives to rejuvenate Metamucil and century-old Pepto Bismol.

P&G next month will try to stoke momentum with radio ads from hip-hop artist Biz Markie for a cherry version of Pepto Bismol, the brand's first new flavor ever and its first new product in a decade. Mr. Markie has also created a rap riff off current "Lineup" TV ads in which dancers act out all five symptoms of gastric distress Pepto treats. Publicis Groupe's Publicis Worldwide, New York, handles all three P&G gastro brands.

Metamucil, meanwhile, has gained share in the past year using a low-carb play, with ads positioning the laxative as a way for the carb-conscious to keep fiber in their diets. A capsule form, launched last year as the first new Metamucil product in a decade, has reversed brand erosion from other capsule laxatives, said marketing director Vince Hudson.

P&G's OTC conversion of AstraZeneca's Prilosec is the biggest factor in its move from a crowded pack of also-rans to surpass Johnson & Johnson and Merck & Co.'s co-venture for category leadership. Prilosec logged sales of $181.5 million through June 13, according to Information Resources Inc. data that exclude Wal-Mart, club and dollar outlets.

exceeding $300 million

Overall, Prilosec OTC is on track to exceed $300 million in year-one retail sales, said Mr. Hudson. P&G had $358.6 million in gastro sales for the 52 weeks ended June 13, according to IRI, more than double last year and surpassing J&J/Merck's $297.1 million. P&G also trailed GlaxoSmithKline a year ago.

A spokesman for the J&J/Merck venture declined to comment.

It would have been easy for Pepto to get caught in the crossfire between Prilosec and competitors stepping up ads in defense. And Pepto is down slightly on the 52 weeks ending June 13, according to IRI. But while it went down 8% in dollar sales for the six months ended in December, it's up 5% in the six ending in June, Mr. Hudson said, citing P&G's data from VNU's ACNielsen.

There's little but the advertising that broke in January to explain the turnaround, he said. "I've never seen a piece of advertising have so much effect on the business in such a short time."

The radio remix of the Pepto "Lineup" ad came when Mr. Hudson asked an ex-Procter friend, who heads a New York production house the Run Group, for ideas to better address African-Americans, who are over-represented in the brand's consumer base.

Run Group was working with Biz Markie at the time, and he was happy to whip up a personalized jingle: "I'm Biz Markie with a new suggestion for nausea, heartburn and indigestion, upset stomach and diarrhea, Pepto Bismol is the perfect idea."

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