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Perhaps only Welch's, the Minnesota Vikings and Oprah Winfrey are as closely linked to the color purple as Prilosec.

Last year, after realizing the purple hue of its Prilosec pills was a marketing asset, AstraZeneca set out to paint the way for its heartburn remedy.

The drug giant, formed in the 1999 merger of Astra and Zeneca, jettisoned its campaign featuring animated caricatures of heartburn sufferers and launched a new one from Klemtner Advertising, New York, with the tagline "It's Prilosec time" and the dominant image of raining purple pills.

Physicians, too, were drenched by the purple rain as a new Prilosec professional effort took on a purple look, giving the consumer and trade campaigns a common thread.

"It was a way for us to tie our consumer strategy and professional strategy together," says Marianne Jackson, 37, Prilosec product director, who oversaw the marketing initiative.

Last year, Prilosec's U.S. sales grew 21% to $4.2 billion, according to IMS Health, and the drug slightly increased market share even as rival Prevacid from TAP Pharmaceuticals saw an 8% jump in share and 67% sales increase to $2.36 billion.

But the importance of the "It's Prilosec time" campaign may not be completely realized until next year when Prilosec's patent expiration could usher in generic competition. AstraZeneca, along with marketing partner Procter & Gamble Co., could then take the drug over-the-counter. Perhaps with the notion that a strong direct-to-consumer push could jumpstart sales after the Rx-to-OTC switch, AstraZeneca boosted Prilosec's consumer-targeted ad spending last year by 61% to $80.1 million, according to Competitive Media Reporting.

Earlier this year, AstraZeneca added out-of-home advertising to its media mix and placed outdoor boards with the "It's Prilosec time" tagline next to clocks throughout the New York Subway system.

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