Over the counter heartburn drug Prilosec OTC, marketed by Procter & Gamble (licensed from the UK’s AstraZeneca) must modify its ‘misleading’ advertising claims, ruled a US District Court in New York on Monday.

The action, jointly brought by Johnson & Johnson and Merck & Company, manufacturers of rival OTC brand Pepsid [WAMN: 15-Sep-03], successfully argued that P&G's advertising misleads consumers to believe Prilosec zaps heartburn in a single day – whereas it must be taken daily for two weeks, and its packaging warns that full relief is unlikely before day four.

Despite the ruling, P&G insists its ad claims are “absolutely true”. Also that FDA research shows Prilosec delivers “significant relief” the first day – which doesn't seem to tally with P&G’s $100 million ad campaign [WAMN: 22-Aug-03] which advises consumers to “use as directed for 14 days”.

The court’s injunction requires P&G to modify its advertising claim: “1 pill, 24 hours, 0 heartburn”. Instead this must read “1 pill a day, 24 hours, 0 heartburn” – a distinction so diaphanous as to be undetectable by nine out of ten pedants.

Nevertheless, P&G says it will appeal the ruling.

Data sourced from: AdAge.com; additional content by WARC staff