Report: Cold & Cough OTC Ad Spend Drops

Ad spend by over-the-counter (OTC) medicine brands in the first three quarters of 2023 dropped 13% year-over-year, from $124 million to $107.7 million, according to an analysis by MediaRadar.

The main reason for the drop? Bayer, Procter & Gamble, Reckitt Benckiser and other brands scaled back ad budgets for top cold and cough relief products, said the ad intelligence platform.

Last fall’s “tripledemic,” which included COVID-19, RSV, and the flu, “caused a spike in advertising for OTC medications,” reported the MediaRadar Blog. “So far this season, the same …. investment in advertising isn’t seen.”

Spending on cold and cough remedies peaked in Q1 ,with a YoY increase of 16% to $82 million, MediaRadar said, but a typical seasonal spike in September did not occur, when ad spend dropped 39% YoY.



In 2022, ad spend for cold and cough products in September and October had increased ten-fold over 2021.

Bayer, maker of Alka-Seltzer cold remedies, cut OTV cold and cough spending 86% YoY in September, MediaRadar reported, noting that the brand “has faced multiple class action lawsuits since last year over how its cold medicines are advertised. This legal scrutiny seems to have put a chill on Alka-Seltzer’s ad budget.”

Class-action lawsuits versus Alka-Seltzer included one alleging false marketing for a mix-in powder that allegedly misleads consumers into thinking it contains honey and lemon zest,  one alleging that Alka-Seltzer products labelled “non-drowsy” contain drowsiness-inducing dextromethorphan hydrobromide, and a third about the use of phenylephrine, a decongestant that an FDA panel recently said doesn’t work.

Procter & Gamble reduced September YoY ad spend on Vicks DayQuil Severe Cold & Flu by 64% and Vicks NyQuil by 33%, but did boost spend for Vicks Vapo by an unspecified amount,  “indicating a shifting strategy,” the blog noted.

Reckitt Benckiser’s key brand in the cough and colds category is Mucinex.

With half of OTC cold medicine ad dollars historically spent in Q4, MediaRadar said, “it remains to be seen if brands will ramp up ad budgets as cough and cold cases rise this fall and winter."

MediaRadar analyzed ad spend data for top OTC cold and cough medicine brands advertising on TV, online video, print, and other media.

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