Consumers Worldwide Show Loyalty to 'Tried & Tested' OTC Brands: Study

SCHAUMBURG, Ill. -- Headaches, colds, sleeping problems, and back aches are the most common ailments of the world's consumers, and when it comes to their treatment in an estimated $70 billion industry, consumers are loyal and habitual purchasers of over-the-counter (OTC) self-medication products, according to a new global health survey conducted by The Nielsen Co.

According to the study, headaches are the top complaint for consumers in the U.S. and around the world - and that might explain why analgesics are the largest category in the OTC market.

Nearly half (42 percent) of those polled in the online survey claimed to have suffered a headache in the last four weeks, while one in three had suffered a cold, back problem, or sleeping problem. One in five suffered from a cough, sore throat, stomach upset, or some other kind of pain.

The survey found that three factors influenced consumers actions when they felt ill: strong product loyalty towards "tried and tested" brands they have always used; a reliance on medical professionals; and deeply rooted cultural "home remedies" - especially in Central and Eastern European countries and throughout Asia.

Nielsen said it polled 26,486 Internet users in 47 markets from Europe, Asia Pacific, the Americas and the Middle East. Nearly half (42 percent) said they reached for their usual tried and tested medication at home during times of ill health, and one in three either saw their doctor or visited a pharmacy in search of an over-the-counter recommendation.

Overwhelmingly, the most loyal consumers of OTC/self-medication products are Asians - more than 80 percent of Hong Kong, Singaporean, and Chinese consumers say they always buy the same tried and tested products, while 68 percent of North Americans do so. Meanwhile, 77 percent of Thai consumers say they will ask for a pharmacists' recommendation and consumers in Hong Kong, Singapore, and Taiwan are most likely to go to the doctor for any kind of common health problem, largely due to the heavy cultural influence of respecting professional advice from medical experts.

"For OTC companies, the challenge lies in encouraging consumers to try new brands in a category characterized by auto-pilot purchasing, shopper loyalty and the added element of deep cultural traditions of self medication in many countries," said Deepak Varma, s.v.p., Nielsen Customized Research. "We've found that humor and strong lifestyle associations with the local culture have proven successful, especially in emerging markets where the OTC market is immature but developing fast."

In North America, significantly more consumers indicated that they would visit the pharmacy when suffering from a minor ailment (35 percent) than visit the doctor (25 percent). In Europe, slightly more consumers claimed to visit the doctor (29 percent) than get a non-prescription medicine from the pharmacy (27 percent). However, doctor advice still carries a high currency in some European countries, such as France, where 44 percent of consumers would visit the doctor.

"There are vast differences in the way North American and European consumers access the OTC market," said Varma. "While many North American consumers would rather treat common ailments with a quick visit to their local pharmacy, we see the opposite taking place in France, likely reflecting the generous nature of healthcare cost reimbursement that still operates in that country."

The Nielsen survey also revealed that once a consumer wants to purchase a non-prescription medicine, self-selection of products by U.S. consumers is widespread across retail outlets, with only 25 percent of U.S. consumers relying on the recommendation of a pharmacist. This compares to 50 percent in Europe, where pharmacists continue to play an influential role.

Several European and Asian countries prefer to rely on traditional home remedies. Consumers in Poland, Latvia, Russia, Germany, and Switzerland were most likely to turn to age-old remedies rather than visit the doctor or pharmacy. Scandinavians, on the other hand, are more likely to grin and bear it when it comes to minor ailments - one third of Danish (36 percent) and Norwegians (33 percent) lead the global rankings for taking "nothing at all" to cure their health complaint.

The survey also revealed diverse regional differences among populations and their health problems. Consumers in Eastern Europe, the Middle East, Africa (EEMEA), and Latin America suffer the most headaches - more than half in these regions said they had suffered a headache within the last month, while Asians (36 percent) were more susceptible to catching colds than any other region. North America topped the world for suffering backache and pain, while Latin America led the world for suffering with heartburn and back problems.

Indians, Japanese, and Portuguese were the healthiest consumers, one in four claiming not to have suffered any health ailments at all in the month prior to being polled. At the other end of the scale, consumers in South Korea claimed to suffer from most ailments, topping global rankings for suffering from indigestion, colds, heartburn, indigestion, and toothaches.

Nielsen Customized Research, operating in more than 100 countries, provides clients with survey research, analytical, and consulting services, including measures of consumers' attitudes and purchasing behavior, segmentation, brand equity, pricing, packaging, advertising effectiveness, customer satisfaction, and loyalty and other marketing issues.
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