10 Truths of OTC No. 9: Behavior matters – be human, be 360°

Truth 9: Behavior matters – be human, be 360°

Healthcare is an emotional business, not cold hard science. It’s about connecting emotionally to people who want to get well and feel better. Health is deeply personal. It often deals with body parts and symptoms that aren’t frequently talked about, that embarrass or upset people.

Despite this, OTC brands wave scientific names, terms and statistics like weapons to bludgeon consumers into compliance and purchase. This worked successfully for years, but it’s not enough for increasingly informed consumers focused on prevention and wellness. People don’t want brands to scare them into purchase – they want brands to work with them.

Human language is key. Research on packaging inserts shows that for consumers across the board, clear plain English is sufficient to explain drug efficacy, usage instructions and risks. In fact, it’s more effective, because consumers don’t switch off from being blinded by science.

When "science speak" is removed it also frees brands to get to the heart of their big brand idea. J&J’s Benadryl is about "relief," which threads through all its packaging, advertising, social media and brand touchpoints. In Rx, Novartis’ truly emotional #skintolivein campaign brought together people living with psoriasis and urticaria (hives) to share inspiring visual and verbal stories about their conditions. It was about building empathy, not hammering home how Novartis’ products could fix the issue.

A "human" OTC brand listens to its consumers. It doesn’t try to sell something at every engagement. When GSK’s Biotene changed its mouthwash formulation for dry mouth and received thousands of complaints, it apologized, explained and sent free packs to continue the relationship. Listening to consumers might also mean having a money back guarantee, like Bayer’s Claritin-D. Or it might mean having a 24/7 customer service helpline or a chat function on your brand’s website.

An engaged OTC brand also leverages myriad new ways to communicate. Think branded apps to help manage conditions, like Zyrtec’s AllergyCast that sends localized pollen alerts to a consumer's smartphone, as well as noting symptoms. A neighborhood-level approach to marketing and advertising takes into account nearby weather and illness incidence, helps prevent and relieve cold, flu and environment-related conditions, and ultimately drives sales.

Burt’s Bees found that 80% of lip balm purchases were influenced by the WetBulb Globe Temperature index (measuring temperature, humidity, wind speed, sun angle and cloud cover). When specific conditions occur in the National Weather Service’s different zones, the brand buys mobile ads in those zones and pinpoints people likely to buy its lip balms, helping it leapfrog from No.5 to No.2 in U.S. sales after Chapstick.

Social media also amplifies and enables the very basic human need to receive health advice. Word-of-mouth recommendations – from friends, family, peers or digital influencers – have never been so significant. Chronic pain relief device ActiPatch’s “Try & Tell” 7-Day Trial campaign was activated on a tiny budget playing on just that, and it gained widespread press coverage in the process. Theraflu’s interactive temperature-taking billboard in Poland got people talking and sharing without an overt selling message.

OTC brands that relate to consumers also never stop. Of course there are peaks and troughs in the life cycle of certain products. But why only focus an allergy product’s brand communications in the spring, when Christmas brings pine trees and new pets, and Valentine’s Day brings bunches of flowers? Platforms like YouTube and Instagram open up year-round engagement possibilities, with how-to and condition information videos providing regular ways to connect.

A 360° world might seem daunting, but the opportunities to engage meaningfully are endless. And immensely fruitful.

Over the last 20 years, DewGibbons + Partners has helped design some of the world’s most iconic and successful OTC brands, resulting in a deep appreciation of the visual and physical cues — and regulatory limitations — in the self-care and OTC marketplace. The need to challenge those cues and limits is becoming far more frequent.

This is the ninth truth in a 10-part series from Sara Jones and Nick Vaus of DewGibbons + Partners, which has worked for the last 20 years to help design iconic and successful OTC brands. The series, “10 Uncomfortable Truths that OTC has to deal with to survive and thrive in the 21st century,” will publish weekly and feature in the DSN Health and Wellness newsletter every week.

The first truth was recognizing there’s a problem in the first place.

The second truth unveiled that OTC medicines are more often in the brand-building business as opposed to the pharmaceutical business.

The third truth spoke to the duality of technology, the pace of technological advances may leave some OTC brands behind even as those same advances are seized as opportunities by new brands.

The fourth truth addressed the evolution of OTC offerings from acute sick-care to preventative health and wellness solutions, mirroring a health system that's becoming more outcomes focused.

The fifth truth tracked the consumer purchase path toward OTC medicines, which more and more is incorporating a digital element.

Truth No. 6 highlighted the need for product development to be driven by consumer insights.

Truth No. 7 revealed that restrictive regulations on what can or cannot be said about an OTC medicine is no excuse for poor messaging.

The eighth truth focused on the value inherent in cleverly-designed packaging that attracts the attention of potential buyers.

The final truth, which will be published in one week, will outline the value of line extensions and how they might breathe new life into an OTC brand. Check it out on Dec. 4.

Sara Jones
Partner and client services director, DewGibbons + Partners
Sara runs DewGibbons + Partners alongside NickVaus, and heads up the client services team, leading branding and communications programmes for household names in OTC and health care. She’s always had a bit of a secret passion for OTC branding. Her Grandma was a pharmacist in London’s West End, leaving her with an abiding curiosity about active ingredients and how medicines work. She’s (in)famous for reading patient information leaflets cover to cover. Email her,
follow her on Twitter or connect on