St. Joseph: From babies to boomers

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Reviving a drug brand whose sales collapsed because of a link with a deadly disease would normally be a headache. To Johnson & Johnson, it's an opportunity.

In a TV campaign launching today, the company switches the target for St. Joseph Aspirin from babies to baby boomers, betting adults will rediscover the 110-year-old brand of orange-flavored aspirin as a way to reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke.

The brand repositioning follows a 15-year period in which St. Joseph's sales declined 90% after doctors linked Reye's syndrome to children who were given aspirin for viral infections.

Johnson & Johnson's McNeil Consumer Healthcare bought the St. Joseph's brand from Schering Plough Corp. in December and now is retargeting it to adults as a way to reduce the risk of recurrent heart attacks or strokes with a low-dose aspirin.

A 30-second spot, created by Publicis Groupe's Saatchi & Saatchi, New York, emphasizes St. Joseph aspirin, which only comes in 81-milligram doses, as a simple way to help prevent heart problems.

The melody "Mr. Sandman" accompanies the testimony of a caring but somewhat mismatched couple-a very tall man and his petite wife. "We both take St. Joseph because its low dose is safe for every size of adult," she says. The commercial ends with the tagline, "Trust it with all your heart."

This is the first campaign marketing St. Joseph aspirin to adults rather than children. Thomas Lom, managing partner at Saatchi, indicated it would be more than $10 million-enough to be heard above "all the noise out there about heart-related benefits" but "not at the level of Bayer."

The biggest challenge, according to Johnson & Johnson executives, was to rekindle the equity St. Joseph had with adults in their childhood while making it clear that adults can use St. Joseph aspirin as therapy for cardio-protection.

"It is a difficult challenge, but the thing they've got going for them is St. Joseph's has been a pretty trustworthy product," said Charles W. Kouns, associate professor at Virginia Commonwealth University's Adcenter. "People have heard the message that aspirin's good for your heart. Now the difference is that it's St. Joseph's that's available."

Johnson & Johnson hopes the commercial isn't the only way to evoke childhood memories in baby boomers; it's also redesigned the package to suggest an earlier period in St. Joseph's history.

"We thought `How would baby boomers remember St. Joseph's?"' said Peter Valenti, franchise director for Johnson & Johnson and McNeil. That's when marketing executives logged onto eBay and began stockpiling old St. Joseph packaging relics. "We found examples of packaging when the brand was at its strongest and used elements from those," Mr. Valenti said.

In a further effort to differentiate itself from its previous incarnation, Johnson & Johnson dropped "Children's" from the packaging and added "Adult" to "Low Strength Aspirin."

"It was really funny because some of the old print campaigns featured a little boy in his father's shirt, and it'd say, `Johnny, that shirt's too big, but St. Joseph is just right' or `Janey, that's Mommy's dress, but here, this is pediatric medicine,"' said Jim Massey, associate marketing manager on St. Joseph aspirin brand. "The campaign we're breaking now talks about how, regardless of size, this is what adults need-it's almost come full circle."

There's an interesting twist in this tale of a comeback cure. Johnson & Johnson also makes Tylenol-the leading brand name of acetaminophen, a drug that accounted for a billion dollars in sales in 2000, or nearly half, of the U.S. over-the-counter pain-relief market, according to McNeil. Aspirin makes up about half the sales of Tylenol, according to ACNielsen. For years, the company has warned consumers of aspirin's side effects-stomach irritation and bleeding-and urged them to take Tylenol as a safer pain-relief medication.

"It's funny because the guys who have really been anti-aspirin have finally seen the light," said Jay Kolpon, VP-marketing for aspirin-maker Bayer Consumer Care. "For 20 years, [Johnson & Johnson's] McNeil has touted only negative aspects of aspirin." Bayer has taken the leading role in promoting aspirin to adults wanting to reduce risk of heart attack and stroke.

Johnson & Johnson executives said they aren't worried about any contradiction. They're marketing the low-dose aspirin as a preventive cardiovascular measure and continuing to advocate their top over-the-counter seller as the best way to relieve pain. A warning on St. Joseph's Web site ( advises consumers to treat any aspirin-induced side effects by taking-what else?-Tylenol.

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