Maalox comes to television

It would be understandable if the makers of Diovol, Gaviscon and Mylanta felt a twinge of nervous stomach upset on Jan. 18.That was the day Rhone Poulenc Rorer Consumer of Brampton, Ont., for the first time in its history, took to...

It would be understandable if the makers of Diovol, Gaviscon and Mylanta felt a twinge of nervous stomach upset on Jan. 18.

That was the day Rhone Poulenc Rorer Consumer of Brampton, Ont., for the first time in its history, took to the airwaves with a tv spot for Maalox, Canada’s best-selling doctor-recommended, or ethical, stomach antacid.

Diovol, made by Frank W. Horner of Montreal, Gaviscon, made by Sterling Consumer Health of Markham, Ont., and Mylanta, made by Parke-Davis of Toronto, a division of Warner-Lambert Canada, are the second-, third- and fourth-leading ethical brands, respectively.


Since 1959, when it was introduced as a remedy for stomach ulcers, Maalox has been marketed almost exclusively to the medical and pharmaceutical communities.

As a result, Canadian consumers are aware of the brand primarily because it was once recommended to them, or someone they know, by a doctor. (This is not the case in the u.s., where Maalox has been advertised on tv since the early 1980s.)

But with the launch of the tv spot, Rhone has signalled its intention to extend the brand’s reach into a category of consumers known as ‘self-medicators.’

Self-medicators are generally defined as informed consumers who do not feel the need to consult a doctor before taking non-prescription medication to treat a familiar ailment.

Studies have pegged the self-medication category as a growth area because consumers are becoming increasingly interested in treating minor health problems without going to a doctor.

Canadians spend in the area of $80 million annually on non-prescription antacid products.

Ethical category

The ethical category accounts for 59% of that figure, while consumer-oriented brands, known in the pharmaceutical industry as proprietary brands, account for 41%.

Well-known proprietary antacids include Tums, made by SmithKline Beecham Consumer Brands, and Rolaids, made by Warner-Lambert’s confectionery division, Adams Brands.

Ron McLarnon, director of marketing and product development for Rhone, says ethical brands tend to be positioned as products offering relief from more severe stomach acid problems, including stomach ulcers.

McLarnon goes on to explain that proprietary brands tend to be positioned as remedies for less severe acidic build-up associated with ‘eating the wrong foods.’

According to McLarnon, the goal of the tv campaign is to shift Maalox’s brand profile from its current position as one of the strongest over-the-counter antacids on the market – and, therefore, one that ought to be recommended by a doctor – to a product people should turn to for milder stomach problems they choose to treat themselves.

To leverage Maalox’s ethical heritage, the 30-second tv spot, created by Toronto ad agency McKim Baker Lovick/BBDO, makes the claim ‘More doctors recommend Maalox,’ and later tells them to ‘Listen to your doctor.’

But in order to reach out to the self-medicating consumer, the spot also shows a man eating a humorously named ‘Emilio’s Hot as Hades Chili-Dog,’ food McLarnon says is tailor-made to cause stomach upset.

McLarnon, who says the spot will run frequently in the first half of the year, notes the strategy behind the creative is that people who knowingly bring on their stomach problems by the food they eat are frequently self-medicators.

He says the spot will pay off if it succeeds in shifting consumers to Maalox from ethical brands such as Diovol and Gaviscon, which have already established a profile in the self-medicating market.

McLarnon says it would be a bonus if consumers also shifted to Maalox from the proprietary category, but does not expect to see a great deal of switch-over.

‘People don’t want to move from a proprietary to an ethical antacid,’ he says.

‘It has to do with people’s perceptions of themselves, most antacid users are adults, and they don’t want to cross that barrier because it suggests they are ageing.’

In order to address the needs of a wide range of antacid users, Rhone has, over the years, introduced several line extensions to its original Maalox formula.

The additional products include Maalox Plus For Gas, Maalox Plus Extra Strength and Maalox T.C. (Therapeutic Concentrate.)

In December, Rhone extended the line yet again with Maalox Heartburn Relief Formula, a product that will be positioned as a treatment for heartburn and stomach upset, including ulcer problems.

Maalox Heartburn Relief Formula replaces an existing Rhone brand, Algicon, that McLarnon says faired poorly in the marketplace as a result of an unsuccessful marketing strategy.

Agency is McKim Baker Lovick/BBDO.