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10 Truths of OTC No. 4: It's about prevention and wellness, not category and cure


Truth 4: Everyone cares about prevention and wellness, not category and cure

Several hard realities have resulted in a mindset shift away from perceptions of medicine as a reactive cure doled out by healthcare practitioners, and towards people taking an active role in preventing illness via changed behaviors and products.

The first reality? Avoidable ‘lifestyle’ conditions like cardiovascular disease, cancer and diabetes cause over 70% of all deaths, according to the 2015 Global Burden of Disease study.  

The second reality is a demographic shift without precedent – by 2050 there will be more than 2 billion adults over the age of 60 worldwide, making up 22% of the population, according to the World Health Organization.  

These two issues exert pressure upon already stretched healthcare systems. In developed countries, it’s ever harder to access face-to-face healthcare services, and high co-pay levels mean self-medication and prevention are cheaper and more attractive.

Consequently, focus on prevention has mushroomed. Despite a strain on public spending, public gyms and free healthy cooking lessons are on the rise. Healthcare providers, insurance companies and employer businesses incentivize healthy lifestyles through wearables linked to behavioral programs, gym memberships and weight loss support.

Even young consumers, unhindered by necessity, focus on achieving peak physical perfection, evidenced by social media trends like ‘Strong is the New Skinny’ and clean eating.

This prevention orientation actively promotes wellbeing, not just a lack of disease. Wellbeing is about feeling great inside and out, and taking constructive action toward being your best self, whatever your age.  So OTC products face competition from traditional peers and entrants from many emerging product categories. Products thriving in this area are similarly positive in intent, tone and the way they’re designed and marketed.

The beauty industry is already in the mix. DECIEM’s Fountain supplement offers resveratrol and hyaluronic acid to promote health, youth, and longevity. Beauty giant Sephora stocks HUM Nutrition – “Clinically researched nutrients to make you look and feel great” – tackling everything from acne to digestion. Move over Centrum.

Food and beverage manufacturers are also firmly in the mix. Functional products focus on digestion, immunity and fatigue – from cheese to candies like Ricola’s Herbal Immunity Lozenges with ginseng and vitamins C, B6 and B12.

Medical marijuana now competes with analgesia products, like Apothecanna’s range of cannabis-based pain-relieving skincare products. And meal replacements like Burts Bees’ protein powders are positioned as health-boosting and sports-enhancing, rather than as weight loss regimes with overtones of deprivation.

Despite OTC’s far more robust claims, the critical thing is that most of these new products are much more enjoyable and appealing than their OTC counterparts. Consumers focused on prevention don’t really care about product categories, just that it works. This simply cannot be ignored, since OTC's biggest sales and growth opportunities are in categories with low barriers to entry like VMS, weight management, sports nutrition and skin health.

Consumers understand deeply that they must proactively and positively manage their lifestyle for money, time and health reasons. Factor in a latent mistrust of pharmaceutical companies, and OTC medications may not be the first port of call unless they absolutely have to be. OTC brands must reposition themselves as a positive aid to prevention, rather than just a "have-to-use" cure, or risk being vulnerable to all sorts of competition.

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 fourth 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.

Next week's truth will help purveyors of OTC medicines better navigate the pathway consumers take toward their better health.

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 LinkedIn.

Nick Vaus

Partner and creative director, DewGibbons + Partners

As well as running the agency with Sara Jones, Nick leads the studio in providing solutions that are innovative, creative, economic, and effective. Powered by Beautiful Thinking – a unique combination of right and left brain thinking that seamlessly binds together strategy, design and brand communications – he ensures that his clients’ businesses, brands and consumers are at the heart of each and every brief. Email him, follow him on

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