Piles of tissues. Chicken noodle soup. Hot tea. Upper respiratory medicine. There’s nothing that marks the winter season quite like a week on the couch with a cold or flu. And this year, it seems like there’s no escape. If you’ve steered clear of the COVID-19 Omicron variant, you may have caught a common head cold, or the weather has extended your allergy season.
After 2020—a mild season with less travel, social distancing and more mask mandates—this unwelcome return to the typical cycle of seasonal illness has increased demand for over-the-counter (OTC) medicines.
To help over-the-counter brands win buyers in this category during the 2022 cold and flu season and in the upcoming spring allergy season, we’ve turned to the data.
DOCTOR’S ORDERS: ADVERTISE TO NEW PROSPECTS
Sales of upper respiratory medicine, the top-selling cold and flu product, were down 34% year-over-year during the peak season last winter. But after more than a year of extreme caution around health and safety, the return to a more social lifestyle during the summer resulted in an un-seasonal surprise.
Upper respiratory medicine sales for summer 2021 were 37% higher than sales from the same time period the year prior, and 18% higher than they were in 2019. And the trend continued into the fall and winter, with 2021 sales 28% higher than 2020 levels and 3% greater than 2019 levels.
In an industry that can set its clocks by seasonality, this can cause a lot of upheaval—for shoppers and manufacturers. And if there’s one thing we’ve learned about shopper behavior since the start of the pandemic, it’s this: shifts away from old habits open the door for brand switching. This is especially true for many OTC products, which might only be bought once or twice in a typical year.
Prescription:OTC brands can focus more on conquesting competitive buyers than they might have in the past. To do this, they should target buyers of other brands in the category over the past two years. Typically, we place our best bet on loyal buyers...but the past two years have been anything but typical.
CREATIVE REMEDIES: TARGET BUYERS OF OTHER SICK-DAY ESSENTIALS
Upper respiratory medicine is not the only category that experiences elevated sales during cold and flu season. Some are tied to colder weather, and some directly to sinus or respiratory symptoms. Hot tea, nasal spray, facial tissues, pain relief and soup are just a few of the categories that experience sales increases with a rise in cold and flu symptoms, and there’s an opportunity for OTC brands to get creative with their targeting.
Prescription: To win new buyers for the category, OTC cold and flu brands can target shoppers who are buying in multiple “sick-day” categories, but not already purchasing cold and flu medication.
WELLNESS HABIT: NEVER FORGET YOUR LOYALS
No matter how much opportunity there is for winning new buyers in the midst of upheaval, CPG brands should never forget about advertising to their loyal buyers. Loyal buyers are the most responsive to advertising, requiring fewer impressions to move the needle on sales. Of course, fewer impressions also means lower cost for results.
Using purchase-based targeting to drive sales is a strategy that can impact the bottom line for your brand RIGHT NOW. One OTC brand approached NCS to help them apply purchase-based targeting (PBT) to their upcoming brand campaigns, with the goal of increasing sales. The results were met with overwhelming success. The new PBT strategy resulted in major quarter-over-quarter efficiencies, including an ROAS increase from $0.25 to $2.00+.
Prescription: Continue to advertise to past buyers on a regular cadence, so they remember to purchase your brand when they’re next in the market.
Of course, advertising at all is always more effective than pulling back, even in the midst of supply chain upheaval. Get a dose of this case study, which compares two brands that took different strategies at the onset of the pandemic.
Spoiler alert: the brand that continued to advertise was able to increase share.
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