Nurofen makes emotional appeal

When competing on price with own-label painkillers became an incurable headache for marketleading analgesic Nurofen, the brand broke convention in the sector by using emotional appeal.

Reckitt Benckiser recently unveiled a new look for its market-leading analgesic Nurofen, introducing an animated character as the brand’s mascot. It hopes that this move, which breaks convention in the sector, will help distinguish it from supermarket and pharmacy own-brands.

Stefan Gaa, Reckitt Benckiser UK marketing director (healthcare), explains: “The share of own-brands is significantly higher in analgesics than in other categories. We can’t compete on price, so we have to offer the consumer convenience, performance and a stronger emotional connection.”

“Nuro”, the new animated character, aims to deliver an entertaining message through the marketing, while reinforcing the brand slogan that “Nurofen targets pain right at its source”.

“Nurofen’s imagery has been functional,” Gaa admits. “It is regarded as a trusted brand but it might have lacked a little emotional connection. The idea is to make the brand more approachable, while retaining the idea that it is there for every pain occasion.”

The creative work for the campaign was developed by advertising agency Mother, which RB appointed for this campaign, although Euro RSCG remains RB’s global advertising agency.

Gaa says that while he is happy with Euro RSCG, the new style of marketing called for a new pair of eyes. “We always try to challenge ourselves at RB, to make things better and try new things. The idea with Nurofen was to give someone else the chance to work on the brand.”

Mother creative director Stephen Butler says the character-driven approach was necessary to separate Nurofen from its competitors. He says: “The analgesics category has talked itself into an unnecessarily prosaic approach over the years, which presents a fabulous opportunity for Nurofen to exploit.”

The opportunity for the brand may be worth multimillions. The analgesics market is currently worth £632m, 16% higher than 2003, according to Mintel’s last report in 2008. A recently revised forecast predicts the market in 2010 will be £695m and will rise to £789m by 2013.

While painkillers are technically limited in their volume sales by how many people are unwell at any one time, the category has potential to grow by finding niche ways to target specific ailments. Mintel reports that analgesics are used by 80% of the population, with one in six people keeping a supply with them at all times (see tables).

By developing new products devoted to such issues as the speed of response or the treatment of particular types of pain, such as joint or menstrual pain, manufacturers are able to open up new markets all the time.

RB says its strategy of communicating “new news” about its products means that 40% of its net revenue every year comes from innovations launched in the previous three years. The Nurofen brand is no exception and boasts a large range of variants in a wide choice of formats, including Nurofen Back Pain, Nurofen Express, Nurofen Meltlets, Nurofen Migraine and Nurofen Tension Headache caplets.

Nurofen topped its market in 2008 with a 20% share, while RB claims the brand’s current share is 22%. Despite this apparent growth in market leadership, Gaa is still wary of the threat of own-label brands, particularly in a climate where consumers are looking to save money. Retailer own-label products account for 28% of the analgesics market with value sales growing at about 10% a year, according to Mintel.

Gaa says that innovation is core to helping RB overcome this issue. “People have very ingrained habits when buying analgesics. We need to surprise consumers and they need new products that do different jobs for that to happen.”

He continues: “Brands operate on two levels. First they must stand for something – have an orientation, but at the same time they need to be ready to reinvent themselves. Brands are a bit like friends: you want them to be what you know, but you also want them to surprise you.”

The rising importance of supermarkets as a distribution channel is also an issue for branded products such as Nurofen. The price difference between own-brands and Nurofen is significant; as consumers grow more confident in own-label alternatives, this puts huge pressure on brands to justify their higher prices.

RB believes that Nurofen can persuade consumers to trade up by offering convenience, the promise of superior performance and that all-important emotional connection through the “Nuro” animated character.

It is a new way of behaving for the brand, which was launched more than 23 years ago. Ibuprofen, the active ingredient in Nurofen, was developed in the Sixties by Boots Pharmaceuticals. In 2005, RB purchased the Boots Group’s non-prescription drugs business, Boots Healthcare Alliance, for a cash payment of £1.9bn. The company added Strepsils throat lozenges and Clearasil skin products as well as Nurofen to its existing healthcare portfolio, which included Dettol antiseptic, Veet depilatories and heartburn treatment Gaviscon.

The brands now form part of the wider RB portfolio, which is led by 17 “powerbrands” that include dishwasher range Finish, laundry additives range Vanish, air freshener brand Airwick and cleaning product ranges Harpic and Cillit Bang, as well as local UK and European brands such as cold remedy Lemsip, skincare range E45 and eyecare brand Optrex.

In December, RB announced it would integrate its UK healthcare and household/ personal care businesses into a single unit, where previously the two business units had been geographically and systemically separated. The integrated business is headed by UK general manager Camillo Pane, who will lead UK marketing directors Stefan Gaa (healthcare) and Phil Thomas (household/ personal care).

Gaa is confident that the new RB structure will help him carry out Nurofen’s new style of marketing. “First of all, we can speak to our customers and retailers with one voice. Second, there are many opportunities where brands can work together,” he says. “Where there are synergies we can create strategic partnerships.

“You might think that is a simple thing to do from separate locations – after all, we have phones and email – but in practice it is ‘out of sight, out of mind’.

“Finally, it will provide more internally-driven opportunities for our marketing staff. It will make it easier for people to work across different brands from different categories.”

Following the closure of bases in Hull and Swindon, RB hopes that its relocation to a single site in Slough, close to the RB’s global headquarters, will help to attract new marketers to the company.

So can Nurofen’s appeal to consumers’ emotions keep the brand ahead of the pack in 2010? While many of its competitors do not advertise at all, RB chief executive Bart Becht contends that significant investment in marketing helps accelerate the growth of both brand and category.

Gaa believes that Nurofen’s new campaign reflects this vision. As he sums up, this investment is all about modernising the brand for 2010 and “reinforcing the role and relevance of Nurofen in consumers’ lives.”