In the past decade, everyday pharmaceutical brands have been increasingly creative in their advertising. Eye-catching images and witty metaphors brought cold functional products to life. However, advertising has continued to serve primarily as a colourful wrap for purely functional product offers, with literal visualisations of the problem remaining the typical advertising approach in the painkiller category.
For all their inventiveness and humour, traditional painkilling adverts have essentially revolved around a straightforward dichotomisation of the problem (pain) and the solution (painkillers).
Last month, however, a completely new kind of painkiller brand emerged in the UK. Nurofen, the Reckitt Benckiser-owned range of pain-relief medication, launched an ad campaign promoting its new, bigger brand purpose: ‘For lives bigger than pain’.
There is no product shot, no promise, no explanation. This is pure lifestyle branding. At long last, the idea that a brand purpose can be bigger than a product offer has reached the pharmaceutical category.
Quarter-inch drills vs. quarter-inch holes
Problem-solver brands have always polarised around those that focus on the problem they address, and those that position themselves closer to lifestyle brands. This polarisation is particularly well illustrated by the contrasting approaches that Weight Watchers and Slim-Fast have taken in their recent advertising. Slim-Fast’s new campaign deftly glosses over the problem, solution and the prosaic, primary outcome (weight-loss) focusing instead on the titillating secondary outcomes that motivate women to loose weight in the first place.
Weight Watchers, meanwhile, keeps the emphasis firmly on the solution and primary outcome, promising only that Weight Watchers will help you lose weight because, put simply: ‘It works’.
But, whilst a simple ‘problem-solution’ advertising model can make sense in the weight loss category, where a brand such as Weight Watcher’s can genuinely claim to offer a qualitatively different solution (a points system as opposed to a meal replacement approach), its efficacy is less obvious in the pain killer sub-category. With only three types of painkillers available without prescription (paracetamol, aspirin, ibuprofen), few brands can legitimately claim a unique product offer and, as consumers’ medical savvy has increased, so has their awareness of this fact.
Nurofen couldn’t claim to offer a truly superior pain-relief solution, so instead it became a first painkiller to abandon its medical career, and search for new opportunities as a life coach.
Making people feel worthy when they feel weak is a truly powerful brand purpose, and it is surprising that, in such low differentiation category, others still persist in putting ‘body first’.