BrandTrack: Top brands in the cold war

This month BrandTrack looks at the market for painkillers and cold cures. With the introduction of ever more powerful formulations, brands are building a strong franchise on specialist distribution and commanding premium pricing

Brands bought

Painkillers and cold cures make up one of the most fragmented markets BrandTrack has examined. Our respondents named 47 products they had bought during February 1996, but only nine achieved more than four per cent penetration, two of these, Paracetamol and Aspirin being generic over-the-counter (otc) products. Paracetamol is the most popular product, with more than three times as many people purchasing it as its nearest rival, Lemsip. However, as half our sample had bought more than one product, the generics and the brands may well be fulfilling different roles. Paracetamol as the basic, all-purpose commodity product, and the branded products for more specialised ailments.

There is little difference between the demographic profiles of the generic and branded products, although penetration of most of the top ten products was higher in London and the South-east than in other parts of the country, indicating greater overall purchase. Men were more likely to have bought the specifically cold-oriented products, Lemsip and Night Nurse, women the stronger painkillers Anadin, Nurofen and Ibruprofen. Women were also more likely to have bought Paracetamol.

Reasons for purchase

The reasons for purchase reflect an overwhelming emphasis on effectiveness, whether this is based on personal experience, or on the testimony of others. In this market, “usual” purchase seems to represent active discrimination rather than mere habit, because of the pressing and personal nature of the product need. Eight out of ten buyers agreed that they had chosen a product “because it is one I usually buy”. This factor is reinforced by two unprompted purchase motivations, 25 per cent of buyers adding that the product “worked well for me”, and a further five per cent being “allergic to other products”.

Recommendation is the strongest motivator in this market. Nearly a third of purchasers chose a brand personally recommended to them; another quarter bought on medical advice, and another fifth on the pharmacist’s or sales assistant’s recommendation. Nurofen and Lemsip benefit particularly from recommendation, Lemsip more from lay, and Nurofen from professional advice.

Lemsip, Nurofen and Anadin are the only brands with a significant number of purchasers being influenced by advertising. Lemsip buyers are twice as likely as purchasers of other brands to have bought as a result of its television campaign; Anadin derives 17 per cent of its buyers from press advertising.

Advertising recall

Buyers recalled advertising for 35 brands during February, although individual levels are low compared with most previous BrandTrack markets. Nurofen scored most highly with 18 per cent recall, Lemsip and Night Nurse effectively tie for second place. These brands are the only three to be remembered by more than ten per cent of buyers; five others – Solpadeine, Anadin, Benylin 4Flu, Vicks and Beechams Hot Lemon – were named by between five and eight per cent of buyers.

Awareness is not affected strongly by age or social class, but women are more likely to recall advertising. Two-thirds of females specified advertising for at least one brand, compared with just over half the male buyers, and they have higher recall of all the top eight brands except Benylin. This bias is strong for Nurofen advertising; women being nearly twice as likely to recall it than men; it is also much higher in the London and the South.

Media expenditure

Twenty-four brands spent more than 250,000 in the past year, ten of whom topped the 1m mark. Nurofen outspends all the other brands, supporting Nurofen Regular, Plus, Colds & Flu with more than 2m each, the combined expenditure being more than twice that of Anadin, the next brand.

The larger brands concentrate almost exclusively on television advertising, which accounts for nearly 90 per cent of all expenditure. Only Lemsip, Night Nurse and Solpadeine spent more than 250,000 on other media, mainly press.


Interview with Andy Newhall, brand manager of Lemsip.

Both analgesics and the cold and flu sector are seeing a shift towards products with a greater emphasis on power; analgesics have already seen a marked shift in that direction and cold products are definitely moving that way.

Analgesics’ core area is being eaten away by generic products, and the brands are compensating by building the “extra power” sector, emphasising efficacy. The cold and flu sector has been less eroded by generics, as the product formulations are more complex, and they have clearer brand equities.

The popularity of these stronger products is growing across the board, in both grocery and pharmacy outlets. However, the fastest growing power products are only available in pharmacies, such as Lemsip Power Plus, Nurofen Plus and Benylin4Flu.

These are displayed “behind the counter” and sold with the knowledge and approval of the pharmacists. The combination of powerful formulation coupled with the pharmacist’s endorsement implies the best and most efficacious product for the consumer.

With colds and flu, there is a spectrum of reaction to symptoms, from “cope and carry on”, to “giving in”.

The different product formulations – tablet, capsules, liquids and drinks – cater for different needs along that spectrum; capsule and tablets are about convenience, and are suitable for summer colds as well. Lemsip being a hot drink is about wrapping your hands around the mug, about soothing and comfort; the brand has an equity which is built not only on product quality and composition, but on the psychological positioning.


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