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October 1, 2012

Excedrin Headache #411: MrConsumer

Filed under: Health,Retail — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 6:06 am

Excedrin box

Novartis, the maker of Excedrin, has suffered from a bad headache for the past nine months because it had to recall all Excedrin products from store shelves. Apparently, they had a little problem with mixing pills from other Novartis products in Excedrin bottles, and according to the FDA they also had a little issue with contamination and ignoring consumer complaints.

The company announced last week, however, that it was resuming production, and that Excedrin will be back on store shelves soon.

Now seems the appropriate time therefore to shed a little light on the smoke and mirrors marketing tactics of the company.

People who suffer from migraine headaches may well turn to specialized products for their particular condition. One such product is Excedrin Migraine.

On their website, Novartis says that Excedrin Migraine is the “first non-prescription medicine approved by the FDA to treat all the symptoms of a migraine.”

Sounds great. But how is Excedrin Migraine different from regular Extra Strength Excedrin?

*MOUSE PRINT:  It isn’t. When you look at their ingredients statements, you learn that they both contain exactly the same active ingredients in the same proportions.

Here is the ingredients listing for Excedrin Migraine:

Excedrin Migraine

And here is the ingredients listing for regular Extra Strength Excedrin:

Excedrin Extra Strength

It is interesting to note that regular Excedrin has many clinical uses, but the migraine version only lists one. Of course, both of them should be capable of doing the exact same things.

So the question is why does Novartis have a specialized migraine product when their regular one is really identical?  Here is their answer:

As you may be aware, Excedrin Migraine received approval from the Food and Drug Administration on January 14, 1998 as the first over the counter product indicated to relieve the pain of mild to moderate migraine headache.

Excedrin Migraine contains 250 mg of Acetaminophen, 250 mg of aspirin and 65 mg of caffeine per tablet. It is the same Extra Strength Excedrin formulation, which has been on the market for over twenty years. When our clinical studies showed that this formulation was also effective for the relief of migraine headache pain, it had been our intention to simply add this information to our existing Extra Strength Excedrin labeling. The Food and Drug Administration, however, required that we market Excedrin Migraine as a separate product because Excedrin Migraine has important patient information, instructions and warnings for use in treating the pain of migraine. This information does not appear on Extra Strength Excedrin. This was the only reason that we came out with a separate product.

I am sure the company did’t protest too much because this gave them a great new marketing angle.

And maybe that gave the company a new idea that they could market the same exact pills under different names and increase their sales. Enter Excedrin Menstrual Complete:

Excedrin Menstrual Complete

Bet you can’t guess what their magical mix of three ingredients is in this product.


Excedrine Mensrual

Yep. It has the exact same three ingredients in the exact same proportions as Excedrin Extra Strength and Excedrin Migraine.

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  1. Interesting. I’ll bet all three products have different prices as well 🙂

    Comment by ICC — October 1, 2012 @ 6:51 am
  2. That was my thought too! Any idea if they cost the same?

    Edgar replies: Since the products are not currently on the market, prices cannot be compared.

    Comment by Glen — October 1, 2012 @ 8:08 am
  3. I have to start by saying I could be a spokesperson on this product!!!!!!!!
    When this product was still on the shelves of Costco, the cost of Migraine was the same as Excedrin.
    I asked my friend who suffer from migraines, what SHE thought the difference was as the ingredients were the same.
    (Yes, I read the small print when it was still on the shelves.)
    She said, “The name.”

    Comment by 4myshasta — October 1, 2012 @ 8:40 am
  4. AND
    You can get the exact same ingredients for much less in a generic brand — but you wont have the placebo effect!

    Comment by james santiago — October 1, 2012 @ 10:14 am
  5. They should come up with a new product called “Excedrin Arthritis Pain reliever”. They wouldn’t have to change a thing, except the box!

    Comment by Peter — October 1, 2012 @ 10:57 am
  6. The power of reading labels.

    These companies really do think very little of consumers.

    Comment by Wayne R — October 1, 2012 @ 1:11 pm
  7. I remember puzzling over this when I first purchased Excedrin several years ago. Can anyone chime in on why the FDA required a whole separate product marketing instead of a “Notes for Migraine Treatment” insert? How does this work with prescription medications? Can one prescription medicine do everything approved, or does it need to be separate too? Neither is a case of off-label use, the use of a drug for unapproved use or with unapproved dosage.

    Comment by Derlin — October 1, 2012 @ 1:24 pm
  8. I noticed the same thing years ago. However, the dosing instructions are different for the 2 products. The regular says 2 every 6 hours, not to exceed 8 in 24 hours. I think the migraine says max dose is 2 per 24 hours. I’ve never been successful at finding out why the dose is different for the 2 products.

    Comment by Barbara — October 1, 2012 @ 1:26 pm
  9. Even if they are the same price, their goal is to have people buying multiple bottles for different “sicknesses”. Amazing.

    Comment by James — October 1, 2012 @ 2:31 pm
  10. I have ALWAYS checked for generics first and have been using Wal Mart and Kirkland for my migraines. Both have the same ingredients as Excedrin at less than half the cost! Target also has a generic version but found Kirkland is the lowest priced.

    Comment by Gerry Pong — October 1, 2012 @ 3:28 pm
  11. I also look for generics, but I have noticed that the expiration dates on generics tends to be much earlier than for brand names. Not that I put a lot of stock in expiration dates, but for products that I seldom use, I occasionally buy a brand name because of the claimed longer potency.

    Comment by Alan Mandel — October 4, 2012 @ 1:16 pm
  12. As a migraine sufferer, I have long used Excedrin. I knew the products were the same and was amazed when I crossed paths with someone who didn’t know. At the stores where I shop, the prices have been the same no matter what the box. The advantage of different boxes for Excedrin may be more shelf space for their product. The real savings is just buying a generic store brand with the exact same ingredients. Generic versions have remained on the shelves during this time when the Excedrin brand was gone.

    Comment by Nancy — October 4, 2012 @ 1:55 pm
  13. Ha, I was going to write to you about this. I discovered it last week while I was shopping for a generic substitute. The store had the migraine type in caplets only and I really wanted tablets, so I decided to check the ingredients. Imagine my surprise when I noticed they were the same thing–except the migraine medicine had a $1 higher price tag! So to answer ICC and Glen, no, the prices are not the same. The “specialized” version was markedly more expensive. I’m not sure if the Excedrin itself is the same price or not, but I do know the generics are different.

    Comment by Ronni — October 5, 2012 @ 3:43 pm
  14. This is no more than false and/or misleading advertising, period! The consumer should be protected from this type marketing. Misleading and fooling the consumer has become too much of a common reality. The Excedrin brand has been getting away with this for far too long. It’s time for some REAL consumer protection laws. We need more rules and regulations, not less of them, as some politicians advocate.

    Comment by Ted Cherry — October 15, 2012 @ 8:04 am

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