NAD Recommends Novartis Discontinue ‘Speed of Onset’ Claims for Excedrin Extra Strength; Advertiser to Appeal

New York, New York – June 10, 2011– The National Advertising Division of the Council of Better Business Bureaus has recommended that Novartis Consumer Healthcare modify or discontinue certain advertising claims for Excedrin Extra Strength, including claims that Excedrin starts relieving headaches faster than Advil. Novartis has appealed NAD’s decision to the National Advertising Review Board.

The claims at issue were challenged before NAD, the advertising industry’s self-regulatory forum, by Pfizer Consumer Healthcare, the maker of Advil.

Pfizer challenged claims that included:

  • “Excedrin starts relieving headaches faster than extra strength Tylenol and Advil.”
  • “Excedrin Extra Strength starts RELIEVING HEADACHE PAIN FASTER than Extra Strength Tylenol* or Advil†” along with the footnote: “Based on clinical trials of Excedrin Extra Strength Tablets versus Advil tablets.”
  • Excedrin Extra Strength starts RELIEVING HEADACHE PAIN FASTER than the top two pain reliever brands*†” along with the footnote: “Based on clinical trials versus Advil tablets”

In this case, the challenger objected to what it characterized as implied and express claims made by Novartis, including the claims that (a) all Excedrin brand products start relieving headache pain faster than all Advil brand products, (b) clinical trials of all Excedrin products versus Advil tablets demonstrate that Excedrin products start relieving headache pain faster than Advil tablets; and (c) clinical trials of Excedrin tablets versus Advil tablets demonstrate that Excedrin tablets start relieving headache pain faster than Advil tablets.

Key to NAD’s decision was its review of a clinical study report of a head-to-head clinical comparison of Excedrin Extra-Strength Tablets and Advil Tablets. The study served as Novartis’s primary claims support.

(Full text of decision available to media upon request.)

NAD determined that the evidence in the record was not sufficiently reliable to support Novartis’s speed of onset superiority claims and recommended the advertiser discontinue claims Excedrin “starts relieving headaches faster” than Advil.

NAD was satisfied that Novartis’s tagline, “Life comes with headaches. And that’s when people reach for Excedrin,” in the context in which it appeared in the challenged advertising, did not imply that Excedrin Extra Strength is the most used headache medicine.

Novartis, in its advertiser’s statement, said it will appeal to the NARB “to address NAD’s approach to the science and its unsupported conclusions on the findings of the studies. Novartis will also appeal NAD’s decision that the two directly related, corroborating pain studies are irrelevant, as the finding is a stark departure from NAD and FTC precedent, and signals a new standard of proof in advertising disputes. Notwithstanding our disagreement, Novartis appreciates the opportunity to participate in the NAD self-regulatory process.”