Escalating Scientific Credibility of OTC Products

Over-the-counter (OTC) drugs have long been the mainstay of consumers seeking immediate relief from what ails them. Go to the corner pharmacy, pick up some medication along with some staples like tissues, go home and take as directed. These drugs are readily available to us because the FDA deemed them safe enough for consumers to judge on their own what to take and when. Somehow, ready availability, safety, and lack of physician oversight has translated to a perception of being less effective, lacking in clinical studies, and/or being beneath a doctor’s notice. After all, by the time we go to the doctor, we want something really powerful, right?

The fact is these products often have a great deal of scientific distinction. And there has been precedent for targeting physicians as advocates. Cough/cold products, dental care, and analgesics are three categories where this has particularly been the case. Tylenol, for example, built its reputation—and its brand—on the value of hospital endorsement. Listerine became the No. 1 mouth rinse by gaining the ADA Seal for plaque and gingivitis and promoting this to dentists. Heck, even Trident gum managed to build sales on the basis of dental recommendations for helping to avoid cavities by mere omission of sugar as an ingredient.

While these examples are 30 years old, we are seeing a resurgence in this type of marketing approach as more manufacturers of OTC products seek out medical education support to bolster their standing.  Typically this involves development of sophisticated mechanism-of-action (MOA) stories, often accompanied by MOA animations; undertaking clinical trials to demonstrate significant effectiveness (since safety is a given), speed of onset, longer duration, etc; data publication both at congresses and in peer-reviewed journals to join the ranks of “more serious” Rx drugs; scientific platform development to establish competitive differentiation from other OTCs and often parity with therapeutic modalities; and thought leader engagement to build advocacy and recommendations.

The fact is we are having no difficulty recruiting thought leaders into these activities. Even specialists have taken an interest and participated with the energy and enthusiasm typically devoted to Rx products. Physicians take greater comfort in adding OTCs to their consideration set with patients because it’s been proven to them that these products hold their own scientifically and clinically.

So the next time you feel your OTC product growth is stagnating, consider following the proven path of elevating credibility and distinction through science and advocacy.

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