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Over-the-counter drug brands pop ad pill

After telecom services rushed in to take the place of fast moving consumer goods (FMCG) as a high-profile category in television ads, a new wave seems to be emerging in the form of over-the-counter (OTC) medicines.

health and fitness Updated: Jan 12, 2011 16:19 IST
Himani Chandna

Look whose ads are getting bigger, smarter and savvier! After telecom services rushed in to take the place of fast moving consumer goods (FMCG) as a high-profile category in television ads, a new wave seems to be emerging in the form of over-the-counter (OTC) medicines.

TAM media research data confirms what you might already have noticed on your screens. TV ads for OTC drugs rose 44 per cent during the January-October 2009 period, the latest for which data is available, over the comparable period a year earlier. While banking, realty and consumer durables were slinking back in an economic downturn, drugs and pharmaceutical makers came second after FMCGs in loosening the purses to build brands.

The catch could lie in the fact that condoms, contraceptives and oral hygiene products - with strong FMCG elements in them - led the OTC category ads, although everything from headache pills to digestives also count in the game. The advertisement for condoms grew by 13 times whereas contraceptive pills escalated by 7 times during this period.

The mantra of drug advertisement has undergone a change, mainly for the lifestyle drugs and health supplements. It features happy people, beautiful faces, sunny days and glossy sets. Leading advertising creator Prasoon Joshi of McCann Erickson said, "The psyche of Indian consumer is averse to the idea of medication. So, the right tune for the drug advertisement is to take away the perception of selling a medicine".

According to consulting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers, India's OTC drug industry was worth $1.8 billion in 2009 and is expected to grow by a compounded 18 per cent every year until 2012.

"Brand building is becoming essential than ever before in pharmaceutical industry," said Jagannadham Thunuguntla, equity head at SMC Capital. "Cipla's sell-out of i-Pill to Piramal Health care for Rs. 95 crore (approximately) signifies the importance and value of a nurtured brand in today's health industry scenario. On the other hand, the nature of the sector is quite recession proof."

Market watchers say that India's desi penchant for self-medication, grandma's remedies and "kitchen cures" also helps the industry. Smithkline Beecham has been a leading OTC advertiser. Rubs and balms are the top sub-category in OTC, with its Iodex a key brand. Shubhajit Sen, executive vice-president, Marketing, Glaxo Smithkline(GSK) says, "Iodex underwent a restage in July 2009 where the long-present glass bottle was replaced with a contemporary plastic jar and new graphics. The brand also took to market a new claim. Hence we invested behind the brand."

The TAM report also noted the regional channels were more vital for the sector than national TV channels. More than half of the OTC sector advertisement was on regional channels against national channels in the ratio of 52:48 where 'West Bengal', 'Maharashtra' and 'Tamil Nadu' telecasted maximum ads on regional channels.

Ranjit Shahani, vice-chairman of Novartis and president of the Organisation of Pharmaceutical Producers of India, said, "India is a diverse market with unique regional habits. Due to this, marketers focus on their new launches or growth from specific geographical areas using regional media". He added "National media is expensive and requires deeper pockets. It also requires a perfect oiled distribution network to make products available countrywide. Regional media provides a unique opportunity to local entrepreneurs to enter the market with relatively lower budgets"

The top ten list of new OTC brands advertised on TV last year, comprised of 2 brands each of 'Rubs/Balms', 'Acne Preparations' and 'Vitamins/Tonics/Health Supplement' category. Also, Unwanted-72, Moov Neck Shoulder and Vicco Narayani Cream were the Top 3 new brands under the sector advertised on TV.

Pharmaceutical industry officials say advertisements are a way to keep consumers informed. Sen said overall economic growth and market competition will push OTC ads higher in 2010. "Going forward, the industry is likely to register healthy growth year after year," he said.