OPINION: Why medicine shouldn’t be seen as a routine fmcg sell

What do consumers want when it comes to ads for medicines? Julie Hayward argues the case for precise images rather than gory details or scientific waffle.

What do consumers want when it comes to ads for medicines? Julie

Hayward argues the case for precise images rather than gory details or

scientific waffle.

Hands up all of you who merrily grab the brief from the new

pharmaceutical client and deliver it to the creatives as just another

fmcg which happens to be an over-the-counter medicine?

Guilty or not guilty, it’s hard to accept that fmcg advertising can

envelop the special qualities of an OTC medicine. True, sales of

medicines from a pharmacy or a supermarket are ’fast moving’ and they

are also ’goods’ used by the consumer. Let me explain.

I have watched with amazement as pounds 1 million to pounds 2 million

campaigns hit the screen and spend 20 or more valuable seconds

befuddling the minds of ailing consumers.

Many have beautifully directed scenes but appear to be targeting no-one

in particular, or they dip into the scientific world and worry consumers

by explaining what’s happening at a gastric level.

Remember that old advertising adage, the single-minded proposition?

Consumers simply don’t think of medicines as they do their haircare

products, their deodorants or their weekly trot around Tesco for their


They approach the purchase of a medicine with some confidence in

self-medication and with some knowledge of what it is they are


They may seek a dialogue with the pharmacist at the point of purchase

about the medicine’s suitability for them.

They go on to apply further caution at home by referring to the


All of this before consumption and still the process continues as

symptom relief is monitored and further visits to the pharmacist or GP

are considered.

The same procedures are hardly necessary when buying a roll-on or tea

bags, for which the land-of-make-believe ad approach is perfect.

Is OTC a special category? Yes. What other category of products have to

face a code of practice with 49 rules and a layer of legislation?

When OTC advertising is put to bed, the account handler has to embrace

the guardian angels waiting in the wings - the Advertising Standards

Authority, the Independent Television Commission, the Proprietary

Association of Great Britain and the Medicines Control Agency.

All products have to face advertising regulation but not many have to

walk the same tightrope as medicines.

All this needs to be completed before you have even thought about

incorporating reference to ’always read the label’, ’ask your

pharmacist, you’ll be getting good advice’ and ’if symptoms persist

consult your doctor’.

The big spend, all singing, all dancing OTC medicine campaigns - which

have not recognised how unique the OTC product is - bring tears to my

eyes and, when the sales don’t walk off the shelves, must surely make

clients weep as well.

Why would someone who simply wants an indigestion remedy want to know

that ’when a man went to the moon he took with him an ingredient that

has been tried and trusted for years?’

This particular ad went on to use an old prescription favourite, the

total eclipse of the sun. Did it make an impact on the consumer? A 3 per

cent market share perhaps suggests it didn’t.

So what does the consumer want? They want something which makes them say

’that’s for me - it’s just right for me’.

A remedy for temporary sleeplessness was advertised using a simple

animated open/closed eye device and told consumers that it helped them

to sleep at the times when they couldn’t.

Judging by the 70 per cent market share, the message was right, albeit

on a much smaller budget than those at the bottom of the market with

megabucks to spend. Case proven, I think

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