Brand revival

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Johnson & Johnson, known for powerhouse brands, is not a company associated with "orphan" products. Its bid to revive St. Joseph aspirin, however, shows even a giant marketer can embrace a promising niche product entry. It requires sound strategy-and commitment to a clever idea.

St. Joseph's long established franchise as an orange flavored children's aspirin dissolved after the U.S. Centers for Disease Control linked aspirin usage to a deadly children's ailment, Reye's Syndrome, in 1984. Among the rival brands that drove St. Joseph into relative obscurity: J&J's Children's Tylenol.

Once research suggested low-dose aspirin therapy could aid adults recovering from heart attacks, Schering Plough Corp., St. Joseph's owner at the time, joined Bayer and other aspirin sellers in trying to position its product for adults. But St. Joseph's fortunes did not brighten (sales for the brand have fallen 90% from its pre-Reye's Syndrome levels).

Enter J&J, which acquired the brand last December. With its strength in non-aspirin pain relievers, it had no aspirin-based product to offer adults under treatment for heart disease. Now J&J is putting respectable dollars behind a new St. Joseph advertising and marketing push. Combing gentle humor and nostalgia, it's reintroducing the "children's" brand to adults as the ideal form of aspirin (low dosage, pleasant flavor) for aspirin-a-day heart therapy. If consumers respond, it should remind all marketers that brands don't need to be "mega" to be winners.

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