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Smart Thinking blog

Insights and expert advice on the key issues facing today’s pharma marketer

Why Doesn’t OTC Care?

With expiries aplenty and pharma having to study more closely what its generic and OTC competition is doing – and of course much talk about engaging emotionally – even OTC branding hasn’t always got it right… 

I got sick recently, bleary eyes, runny nose, headache and sore throat, the full works. So what? I know, it happens to us all, and as such we all have our own coping strategies, whether that's deny any sign of sickness and develop the mantra “No, I'm fine” or admit defeat and sleep it off in a haze of medicines.

What really struck me though, was the disparity between the majority of OTC medicinal brands and the consumer emotion state – vulnerable, fractious and tired. It's a weird phenomenon that even the most resilient and intelligent amongst us can, when ill, be reduced to a snotty, shivery mess desperate for something to make it better. So why do OTC brands insist on remaining as dry, emotionless brands, which with clinical professionalism order us to “TAKE THIS”. Without offering any empathy shown, at best, their interface with me is instructional – and at worst uncaring.

It's long been a trend for FMCG packaging to have personality; cute hand-drawn notes, informal and personal communications pieces – everything from your drinks to your mouthwash wants to chat to you. Even your washing detergents encourage you to caress and sniff them; wanting to give you a hug to show you how soft they make your linens. And yet, OTC? OTC stands there… same as ever… unchanging and professional. Yes, I want to know you take your job seriously, and that you're serious about quality, efficacy blah blah blah… but I want to know you're serious about caring for me too.

It might sound odd to have a 'favourite' OTC brand, but I do, Night Nurse. A sticky green syrup, that by connecting with consumers through both efficacy and emotion has won a special place in the hearts of many Brits. Whenever someone returns to the UK from Holland in the winter, “Could you get me some Night Nurse?” is a regular request from the Design Bridge British expats. It's a rare brand that while being incredibly efficient (a warm, deep sleep, free from any cold and flu symptoms is its promise) also delivers emotionally.

“Night Nurse – she's the one, the only remedy” sang the radio advert in the UK, while the pack coherently displays tick boxes of what it treats… summing them up with “and so aids restful sleep”. But it's more than that, Night Nurse, it's a caring brand down to its very name – a nurse, it is the caregiver who looks after you and, literally, nurses you better.

Calpol is another OTC brand linked with emotion in consumers' minds. A nostalgic smile and fondness is common among many adults when thinking about Calpol, remembering the bright pink sweet syrup, its flavour (was it really strawberry, or did we imagine that?), and perhaps most strongly, the smiling happy blonde 'Calpol kid' on front of pack, beaming and healthy.

You knew by taking Calpol it would make you feel better, you would smile and play like the Calpol kid again. Recently, Calpol's pushed the emotion of its brand and product further and to great effect. Now, it's no longer about a headache, it's about not having to stop playing. Instead of referring to sickness, they use the softer, informal, colloquial phrase 'poorly' to describe children – a far cry from dry, authoritative hands-off pharma brands. The Calpol adverts even go so far as to apologise to parents for making their kids better so quickly… enabling them to get back to making mess and having fun.

So while some brands are understanding that what we, as pathetic sick and feeble, germ-ridden consumers, want is comfort and respond accordingly – other brands are realising not all consumers are the same; some want the opposite.

That's where Anadin steps in: they connect to their consumer by responding to a specific consumer need and emotion state. Sometimes you don't have time to be sick, people depend on you, works too busy so you just have to get on with it. Combined with product innovation (teaming painkillers with caffeine, to kill your pain and pick you back up – simple but brilliant), this understanding of consumers went into their brand and communication. First, it gave them a strong connection to their consumer and secondly it instilled in their 'unsung hero' consumers a sense of pride. “Anadin – for people who just get on with it” became the brand that gave support and comfort to people who are too busy and don't want to make a fuss.

These examples are readily available, mainstream OTC brands in the UK; leaders in the market and special to consumers. So why don't more brands follow suit? Surely it's an obvious no-brainer, if your job is to make people feel better, then make them feel better! Emotions are just as important (if not more so) than people's physical ailments. Which raises the question, why don't more OTC brands care?

Article by
Alexis Caught

insight manager Design Bridge, Amsterdam

12th June 2012

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