10 Truths of OTC No. 6: Consumers must be at the heart of OTC
Truth 6: Consumers must be at the heart of OTC
Our first five articles talked about understanding big systemic truths – market, economic, technological – as good starting points to create a compelling OTC product journey. But even those insights will be found wanting without also understanding the underlying consumer and cultural truths. OTC businesses and their products need to offer answers to problems and needs states that consumers actually want to have solved, not what they think needs to be solved.
Some of these are physical needs states expressed at a macro level – the wider consumer needscape. This might currently relate to key trends noted in our previous articles, such as ageing and unhealthy lifestyles, with Nielsen saying diabetes sufferes spend 35% more on OTC products than the average person. According to Nicholas Hall, the leading OTC subcategories showing the highest levels of growth reflect this: Vitamin D, probiotics, sleep aids, tonics and cure-alls, nail antifungals and wound healers.
In the future, physical needs states are likely to arise which relate to increasing urbanization in pharmerging markets and the further explosion in technology usage: pollution, stress/anxiety, energy problems, repetitive strain injury, back issues from using smartphones and a focus on child wellbeing as millennials become parents. It’s vital to plan ahead now, in order to deliver innovative OTC solutions with a more holistic, natural focus that will appeal to consumers in 2026.
Some businesses are already responding. In the U.S., CVS Health has OTC vending machines at busy locations like airports and train stations to help consumers who simply don’t have time to get to a pharmacy. Omega Pharma bought a traditional pharmacy in North London, transforming it into a live research lab to deliver insights about shopper psychology, the effect of the physical space, perceptions of customers and, no doubt, brand design development for Omega’s own product lines. GSK Consumer Healthcare has Shopper Science and Consumer Sensory Labs in the U.S. and U.K. These ventures have the advantage of testing and directly understanding various solutions to consumer needs.
Approaching new product development from this type of focused consumer-driven insight is at odds with the traditional molecule-first approach. But mapping a physical and behavioral needscape and matching it with a new OTC offer is highly efficient. And it’s a brilliant yardstick by which to prime the R&D and NPD pipeline. Here’s an example, albeit from the Rx industry. The consumer insight is that traditional inhalers are cumbersome to carry, unhygienic and hard to judge dosage. The response? Bloom’s compact inhaler, designed to fit into a wallet. It has no mouthpiece for hygiene, is refillable, airtight and carries six precise doses of medication. Perfect.
The consumer-driven approach doesn’t always mean going back to the drawing board. Quite often it might be about reframing existing products for alternative uses, or for different markets. Beauty companies quite often have the same active formulation marketed as skin whitening in APAC countries, but they position it to even out skin tone and correct dark spots in Western markets. Viagra was a very happy accident indeed – originally mooted for high blood pressure and angina, but better suited to erectile dysfunction.
However it’s done, done it must be: in the 21st century OTC products that don’t fulfil an unmet consumer need are very unlikely to succeed.
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 sixth 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.
Next week’s truth concerns regulation, and how restrictions on marketing language cannot be an excuse of poor branding.
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.
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 Twitter or connect on LinkedIn.
Rules of the road: Keeping profits amid regulatory change
Author Robert C. Gallagher once observed that “Change is inevitable—except from a vending machine.” The same can be said about the global (and U.S.) regulatory landscape. U.S. brand owners are often intimidated and bypass global opportunities because the regulatory challenge is daunting.
Well, it is possible to keep the change and profit.
A few rules of the road:
1. Be prepared for Alphabet soup. TGA, SFDA, KFDA, MHRA, CE etc. are all quite real and must be understood. Don’t start the global effort without knowing the fundamentals.
2. There are rules and then there are RULES. Be prepared to disclose some things but hold tight on others. In particular, expect challenges with disclosing product formulations and allowable marketing claims. Provide ranges, not exact formulas. Be ready with clinicals. Be flexible with what can be said on the package — it will probably be pared back from U.S. text.
3) The United States is LIBERAL when it comes to Marketing Claims and packaging text. Understand that the US regulatory world allows more to be said; domestic packaging can include the disclaimer, "This statement has not been evaluated by the FDA. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease." This regulatory flexibility, permitted under the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994 is especially important in the supplement world. It doesn’t exist anywhere else.
4. Know true International costs of goods sold and product allocation strategy. Going global will not be popular with parts of the domestic organization. Count on increased operational complexity and a battle over limited resources. The allocation of Administrative Overheads, establishing Product Priority and paying for Marketing launches will cause conflict. Global expansion will increase forecasting error; it’s a new business. What happens when (inevitably) WMT and Boots both expect product and it’s not immediately available? On the operational side one “favorite” costing mistake is charging the international changeover costs both startup and shutdown solely to export. Better forecasting and more flexible lead times will become a prized capability. The bottleneck usually occurs with the packaging machinery. Production management is hard pressed to be both cost efficient and nimble at the same time. It’s usually one or the other.
5. Create country clusters if/when possible. This includes grouping required languages, creating an international formulation acceptable across several jurisdictions and, when possible, the equivalent of a consumer safety 800-number serving an entire geographic cluster.
6. Expect bumps in the road. Some ingredients — actives and/or inactives — may be prohibited later on. Over time certain ingredients have come under fire while still allowed in the US. Parabens and Petrolatum come to mind immediately. Be prepared to have the entire production ecosystem scrutinized. This will include Plant inspections and ingredient source traceability. For China, be prepared for the issue of Animal testing. In Canada, Health Canada is serious about French and English content being equal. Also, every container coming into Canada is inspected. Budget for it.
7. Lead Countries can help predict the speed bumps. There are certain countries like Sweden or France that seem to serve as leading indicators of future challenges. The Paraben issue was raised there long before it became a more global issue. Likewise, when predicting Switch activity, New Zealand has been a good bell-weather.
A solid regulatory approach must accompany global expansion. And “keeping the change” can mean big bucks.
Ed Rowland is a Drug Store News contributing editor covering global issues. As the principal of Rowland Global, he believes in the promise of global business and supports companies in their strategy, tactics and execution of international growth initiatives.
NIH division director dispenses diabetes advice in advance of National Diabetes Month
BETHESDA, Md. — For the more than 30 million people in the U.S. with diabetes, the director of the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases division of the National Institutes of Health urged people to eat better as part of a best practice in taking care of their condition.
"People with diabetes need to make healthy food choices, stay at a healthy weight, move more every day and take their medicine even when they feel good," suggested director Griffin Rodgers in a blog posted Wednesday, the first day of National Diabetes Month. "It’s not easy, but it’s worth it – research has shown that these efforts can dramatically lower the risk of many diabetes-related health problems, including heart, kidney, nerve and eye diseases," he said. "[And] having a network of support can help people with diabetes cope with the daily demands that come with diabetes and help them be more successful in managing their health."
Rodgers noted that the NIH is currently researching a "precision medicine" approach to managing diabetes, where a person’s genes, environment, lifestyle and other factors all help determine the best treatment for that person. "The ongoing Glycemia Reduction Approaches in Diabetes: A Comparative Effectiveness Study is comparing four drugs as additions to metformin, the most common first-line type 2 diabetes medication, to determine which drug works best to manage the disease in different people," he noted.
Even as NIH seeks better pharmacological disease-state management tools for diabetes, people can take better charge of their condition by eating better and exercising, he said. "As we learn more about how to treat and someday prevent all types of diabetes, we hope you’ll use this National Diabetes Month as a chance to take charge of your health," Rodgers concluded. "Go to health visits with questions you may have. Start making small changes to your lifestyle. Learn more about diabetes with free health information from the NIDDK. Find even more ways to improve your diabetes health with the National Diabetes Education Program, a joint program of NIH and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention."