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