For Gen Z Choosing OTC, Brands With Purpose Win

Image above from 2020 "Like a Girl" campaign from Always.

Nearly 80% of Gen Z shoppers bought OTC products in the past year based on an online influencer’s recommendation, according to a recent Tinuiti study. With that in mind, we spoke about Gen Z and OTC with David Paragamian, chief executive officer of Health Monitor (HM), which studies such trends for its point-of-care marketing platform.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Pharma & Health Insider: What insights can Health Monitor give us into the relationship between Gen Z and OTC brands?

David Paragamian: Three tributaries feed into this: purpose, doctors and experience.

Pharma & Health Insider: Let’s start with purpose then.

Gone are the days when the brand manager could say, “I’ve got great copy, I’ve got a great media plan, my sales force is going to go get me an extra facing at Kroger, I’m done.”

We are living at a time, when it comes to OTC/CPG particularly and Gen Z/Millennials purchase habits, that brands with purpose matter. Brands with purpose win.

I’m a proud Procter & Gamble alum, so I will point to some Procter “best examples”:

Always feminine hygiene products, to advance equity for women, created the #LikeAGirl campaign. In the UK, with the brand’s #EndPeriodPoverty, it donated feminine hygiene supplies into girls schools to reduce the truancy rate when they were having their periods.

For Pantene, #DaddyDo was all about getting daddies to do their daughter’s hair.

Vicks’ #TouchOfCare campaign won awards at Cannes.

You can argue that all these categories are very mundane and prone to generic competition -- and yet, giving the brands a sense of purpose, a slightly higher calling, is a differentiator that really matters to this target audience.

Pharma & Health Insider: How can brands get a sense of purpose without creating backlash a la Bud Lite?

Paragamian: It has to be sincere and authentic to the brand as opposed to “we need an anthemic campaign to sell more cases.” That’s how you stay clear of stepping on a landmine.

Pharma & Health Insider: Let’s talk about the role of doctors.

Paragamian: There was a time when we surveyed consumers that 80% would say, “I’m buying this brand because it was recommended by my doctor.” That influence has declined. For baby boomers, it’s now a little over 50%. But for Gen Z/millennials, the number’s close to 40%.

It’s still a significant number, which is why you see so many over-the-counter brands not only doing great television advertising and great in-store execution, but also continuing to do marketing to healthcare professionals to drive recommendation.

Category-by-category, the #1 brand in sales is typically the #1 doctor-recommended brand.

Pharma & Health Insider: What about the third tributary, experience?

Paragamian: The in-store experience used to be, if I have four facings of Crest at Kroger, I’d want to get a fifth and take that from my competitor, Now, it’s not just about facings at the shelf, because there’s an awful lot of private label that’s been ribboned right in next to the brand.

Where I shop. there’s an awful lot of out-of-stocks at the shelf. And if you live in New York City, and other big cities, many of these products are behind plastic security devices that require the assistance of an employee.

For CPG brands, it has become, “if we’re going to be in the store, can I make it more of an experience, can I do something bespoke, can I do something innovative, can I do something special?”

Consumers also have the choice of (saying), “I don’t need to go to the store at all. I don’t need to fight that wall on that extra facing of Crest, because Jeff Bezos will bring it to my door in 24 hours.”

Pharma & Health Insider: Besides doctor recommendations, where do younger consumers get info on OTC brands?

Paragamian: A huge chunk of it is coming from social media. It’s family, its friends, it’s the user on Instagram that they just saw make a post. That connects back to giving brands purpose and anthemic marketing campaigns that are more than advertising, but something that becomes this sharable community event that can live in social media.

Once you’ve created this sharable community event, you’re reaching that audience where they are most influenced -- beyond a piece of broadcast advertising on linear TV, which is probably the least impactful way to get them.

And everyone is using “Dr. Google” before they get to the exam room.

Pharma & Health Insider: How do you see things evolving for Gen Z and OTC?

Paragamian: Social media influence is going to get bigger, so all brands are going to have to find what is their higher purpose and calling. Not everyone may be able to be as blessed and as fortunate to create these big anthemic campaigns like Procter and Dove, but everyone’s going to have to find what is that thing that can hook people’s hearts, because the social media world is instant, and it has to be authentic. Otherwise, you’ll get called to task.

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