Once sleepy giant roars back

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Bayer consumer Care's VP-Marketing Jay Kolpon oversees the marketing of a slew of American medicine chest staples, ranging from Bayer aspirin to Alka-Seltzer to Phillips' Milk of Magnesia. He says strong advertising accounts for much of the success of these brands. He underscores the importance of prime-time TV as an ad vehicle in an interview with Advertising Age reporter David Goetzl.

Advertising Age: What is the general state of Bayer Consumer Care. You're 5 years old now?

Jay Kolpon: We've put ourselves firmly on the map and are a force to be reckoned with. We've grown share in all our categories. All of our brands over the last five years have exceeded the market. Some, such as Bayer aspirin, One-a-Day Vitamins and Phillips' Milk of Magnesia are significantly exceeding the [growth of the] market [category]; Aleve over the past 18 months is significantly exceeding the market.

AA: Let's talk about Aleve, a product that is really growing. What do you attribute that to? You've done well despite the growth of prescription competitors Celebrex and Vioxx.

Mr. Kolpon: Right. In fact, the recent shares on Aleve are the highest they've ever been since its launch. We attribute Aleve's success entirely to advertising that really has connected with the consumer. And we've painted for consumers what a dramatic difference Aleve can make in their quality of life. And we've done it with a proposition that points to Aleve's benefit of all day relief to chronic sufferers of body pain, arthritis pain, and things like that.

AA: With Bayer aspirin and Aleve, you're really the only company with two analgesic brands that have done well.

Mr. Kolpon: We let each of the brands do what they do best. As it relates to Bayer aspirin, it's taking advantage of its unique market position and category position . . . [as] the only pain reliever that not only gives you great pain relief but can give you lifesaving benefits. And in the case of Aleve, it's the brand that can provide improvement in your life as it relates to treating chronic pain. I'm not sure that other companies purposely would say, at least initially, `Let's only market one and let the others peter out.' We have done a good job at just trying to market one, and not worry about how it might impact the other. We have just been very good at finding a place where each of these analgesics can live.

AA: Talk about what you call the `added value strategy' for Bayer aspirin. And the importance of starting in that direction in 1995.

Mr. Kolpon: For years, we watched not only Bayer, but all the aspirin brands in the analgesic category -- Bayer, Anacin, Bufferin and even private label -- lose share to acetaminophen and ibuprofen, and then, when Aleve came in, naproxin sodium. It wasn't until we decided the best way for Bayer aspirin to compete was to leverage its differentiating prevention proposition that we saw growth. . . . Once we firmly established ourselves as an analgesic that not only provides great pain relief, [but] it also brings this tremendous added value of helping save your life, a long-term trend of decline turned around. We've grown the business, since September of 1995, roughly 50%.

AA: Did you merge the messages of aspirin's pain and anti-heart attack benefits because consumers were not making the link?

Mr. Kolpon: Correct. In fact, our research showed that they actually thought about it separately. And that was one of the things that stopped [then-U.S. marketer] Sterling from marketing together. The key was certainly talking about the new indication, but in the context of added value: the same aspirin that you take for pain can help -- well, I think we literally used the words, `Stop you from dying.' That's a powerful claim.

AA: Let's talk about Rid, the head lice product you bought from Pfizer after the Warner-Lambert merger. It must have been exciting to buy a such a strong product.

Mr. Kolpon: Yes, it shares the market leadership with Nix.

AA: Do you feel like you can decidedly overtake Nix, which remains at Pfizer? Or is the goal to just keep share? Mr. Kolpon: Oh, no, we are definitely planning to grow share with Rid. We think it's a tremendous equity. We see an opportunity to market our way to growth. We've just launched probably the first new product in the lice category in years with Rid Mousse. And that provides a meaningful, no-drip, easy-to-apply benefit. And we see growth and extension opportunities over the next few years in a big way.

AA: Alka-Seltzer still has a lot going on. It seems as if there are still new flavors and extensions to launch.

We see Alka-Seltzer and leveraging effervescence as a big opportunity, and have started to grow the base Alka-Seltzer business this year after years of kind of being stagnant. That business is up marginally in a category that's down about 4% or 5%. And we see real growth by launching the first Alka-Seltzer product ever specifically designed for heartburn, which is hitting shelves right now. We start advertising in late October.

AA: Can you expand on this idea of leveraging effervescence?

Mr. Kolpon: The notion of effervescence, especially in heartburn, does a couple of things. One has to do with just the innate speed [of relief] that a bubbly effervescent liquid would bring. The other would be the notion of cooling relief. It's really perfect for a core heartburn product in positioning.

AA: Any possibility you will reintroduce `Plop, plop, fizz, fizz, oh, what a relief it is' as an ad slogan?

Mr. Kolpon: Probably not. Alka-Seltzer has had some great entertaining advertising over the years that has not necessarily been associated with business success. The key learning that we've had on Alka-Seltzer is to go toward a little bit more of a serious medicine communication. That has been the secret behind the incredible success of Alka-Seltzer Plus, which grew to be a line extension bigger than base Alka-Seltzer. You can almost argue it may be the most successful line extension ever because of how big it grew in the cold and sinus category.

AA: So you felt over the years, Alka-Seltzer suffered from a bit of trivialization.

Mr. Kolpon: That's a good way of saying it. We look at trivial and frivolous as something that usually doesn't have a place.

AA: How has your job changed with the boom in direct-to-consumer advertising for pharmaceutical drugs? With Alka-Seltzer in some ways you're competing against Prilosec. With aspirin and Aleve, you compete against Celebrex and Vioxx. Mr. Kolpon: It's forced us to make our communication, our advertising sharper, crisper and more persuasive. Because we do count those things in the share of voice and share of clutter that consumers see. So our media dollar needs to work harder.

AA: You've consolidated agencies to BBDO Worldwide and Euro RSCG Tatham.

Mr. Kolpon: We have found that consolidating our agencies has been a real advantage for us in ultimately gaining strong continuity on our businesses.

AA: Can you talk about how the Internet could affect your use of prime-time TV?

Mr. Kolpon: At the end of the day you need to get your message out. And the biggest place to get the message is still in prime time TV. And it is real important for us to make sure our commercials are as crisp as they can be in getting our communication out to a broad audience. We absolutely believe in the broadcast vehicles.

The Internet, a narrowcast vehicle, is another medium. We believe that has a different purpose in terms of being allowed to impart more information and be more interactive. But there's no reason to believe that the Internet is going to displace broadcast anytime soon. We believe there's a place for the Internet in the marketing mix, but we believe prime time TV, cable TV, all those things are going to continue to be still probably the main driver in marketing for the foreseeable future.

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