Success in OTC: The Next Step is Online

By Lisa Buono, IRI

With nearly 81 percent of adults in the U.S. using over-the-counter (OTC) medicines as a first response to most minor ailments1, it is necessary for OTC medicines to have a strong digital presence to keep these brands at the forefront of consumers’ minds. As shoppers’ expectations continue to grow, establishing an online platform can help OTC brands match the increasing levels of convenience that consumers’ desire. A strong digital presence will give OTC brands an opportunity to connect with consumers where they are and expand the brand sales.

Of course, it is not always that easy. The OTC market has been slower to enter the digital sphere due to heavy regulatory scrutiny on its products, more so than personal care or food products. With the rise of e-commerce, though, leveraging this expanding channel is essential for brands to continue to grow.

This is not to say that OTC brands are not already successful. IRI estimates that, while online sales of OTCs are only about 2% of total CPG industry sales, they are growing from small bases at double-digit rates, as high as 20-25% year over year. It’s an impressive feat for anyone in CPG!

Procter & Gamble’s Vicks DayQuil and NyQuil is one example of how OTC brands can transfer offline success to online. Connecting with consumers on platforms such as Facebook, Vicks’ advertisements emphasize that taking DayQuil/NyQuil will make sure you “don’t take sick days.” These advertisements have helped Vicks be the leader in earned media value (EMV) at 65.5% (earned media value is a specific dollar value evaluated by a brand’s social media post analysis).

Zyrtec is another good example of using digital to connect with consumers. It offers an AllergyCast mobile app2 that uses the consumer’s location in order to provide a localized pollen forecast and tips on how to manage allergies. This creates an important and visible opportunity to regularly connect with consumers.

For an OTC brand to improve its success online, it should focus on keeping convenience at the forefront and truly engaging with consumers. Establishing a robust omnichannel strategy that puts the consumer and their experience first will help strengthen connections between brick-and-mortar and online storefronts, and thinking outside the physical shelf can put your brand at an advantage, especially if you are creating more memorable experiences for consumers.

Having all of a brand’s customer, sales and other data on a single technology platform is another major factor in success. It allows for a full view of your data and insights, including:

  • Accurate category views and cross-category benchmarking;
  • In-depth brand performance reviews;
  • The ability to monitor key online indicators and make real-time adjustments;
  • Reaching and activating online shoppers.

The e-commerce and digital world is here to stay, as is the number of consumers buying more products online. It is essential for the OTC market to be where consumers are as the evolution of digital continues.

To learn more, read the IRI/Kline paper “OTCs ONLINE: The impact of e-commerce and digital presence on OTC brands” or contact me at



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