10 Truths of OTC No. 7: Regulations no excuse for poor branding

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10 Truths of OTC No. 7: Regulations no excuse for poor branding

By Sara Jones and Nick Vaus - 11/13/2017

Truth 7: Regulations no excuse for poor branding

Regulation, varying from country to country, affects many substantive aspects of what constitutes OTC branding and what is allowed in packaging design, claims, evidencing, marketing communications and sampling. And it changes all the time, with very little chance of any form of regional harmonization any time soon, let alone global.

Packaging is the distillation of the brand’s identity and purpose, so it’s essential to understand the regulatory constraints very early on in the brand design process. In naming and claims, there are some red lines that simply cannot be crossed in different markets. Nurofen, as a molecular, distinctive active-led product, is one of very few global masterbrands that remain similar in all the markets in which they operate.

Then there’s the challenge of language, cultural mores, semiotics, color preferences and differing levels of technological penetration. The complexity is almost staggering.

Getting the lawyers and regulatory experts into new product devlopment and marketing discussions at the outset, and integrating their thinking into the brand development creative brief makes great business sense. Once those red lines are established, there is in fact a huge amount of creative flexibility in branding and visual architecture that can transcend regulatory strictures.

There will always be tweaks, country by country, but that’s no excuse not to aim for meaningful, consumer insight-led claims and "Reasons to Believe" – as well as the powerful visual assets that reflect and deliver on this.

Currently, OTC has a very distinct, and pretty limited, visual landscape. Starbursts, droplets, targets and swooshes combine to convey various permutations of efficacy, performance, strength and rapidity. In the more preventative-led wellness landscape we’re talking about, it’s clear that more of the same just won’t be enough to stand out.

But solutions can be found. For example, workarounds are possible in nomenclature, even though names might need to vary due to category or country regulations. Apple’s iPod, iPad and iPhone can easily be matched to Sanofi’s Buscopan, Buscapina and Buscofem, working within what markets dictate.

Color is always incredibly powerful. Coca-Cola red and Cadbury’s purple are easily matched by Pepto Bismol’s iconic pink product and brand equity. Add to that a notable logotype and consistent, compelling brand architecture across every SKU and you have something that’s eye-catching.

On a shelf full of cardboard boxes, exciting pack structure is a great way to stand out. Just make sure it’s trademarked: witness Tums’ distinctive bottle shape which is now imitated by a slew of private label competitors. Even gallenic form can be notable. Think Viagra’s iconic blue diamond, also carried onto its pack design.

Despite the seemingly immutable quality of the OTC brandscape, change is always possible. In dental care, newcomer Hello Products subverts the category with a breezy positive tone and curvy, pink, green and blue structures. And it’s now stocked at retailers like Walmart, Target and Rite-Aid.

Over in the laundry care category, the last 10 years have seen a radical visual shift from germ-busting and performance semiotic cues to fragrance and floral personal care cues, based on the consumer insight that cleanliness is just a starting point. OTC may well need to make a similarly bold journey and then carry it through into its POS, online, HCP engagement materials and all other branded assets. And most importantly, none of this is constrained by regulation. Creativity can always find a way if you let it.

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 seventh 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.

Next week's truth reveals how the power of packaging can unpack a richer brand engagement with the consumer.

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, cr