Destined to Fail- Study of Brand Launch Failure in Healthcare OTC Category

Master Sun Consulting has done a study the “Brand Launch Failures in the OTC Healthcare Category”. The OTC products in the healthcare sector can be defined as the products which help in curing any day-to-day therapeutic ailment like cough, cold, fever, headache or body ache, weakness, tiredness. Some of the brand launches that were studied were the launch of Savlon, Disprin Plus (later Disprin Paracetamol), Chawan Junior, Duractin , Crocin Pain Relief, Crocin Syrup for Children, Dettol Plaster, Dettol Extra (almost a beauty soap), Vicks Cough Syrup, Gacidity (an antacid), Pediasure (an adult nutrition brand).

Some of the major reasons for failure observed by Jasravee Kaur Chandra, a Healthcare Branding Specialist were “Failure to understand usage of product by consumers, consumers’ attitudes and beliefs, consumer’s relationship with a brand and positioning of the brand vis-à-vis competition”. One of the most notable failures was the Savlon launch campaign. Savlon, a Johnson & Johnson brand, could not succeed since it went against the grain of consumer beliefs about the category. It was widely held belief that for an antiseptic to be effective it has to be perceived as making an effect- the sting of Dettol. Therefore Savlon’s no-sting & sweet smell went against the basic consumer attitudes to anti-septic category.

According to Sarvajeet Chandra. Managing Partner, Master Sun Consulting, “the clinical smell of Dettol enhanced the perception that the anti-septic was working. Consumers were not expecting to spray a perfume on their wounds; they wanted an anti-septic lotion which was seen to be waging a war” The other notable example was the failure of Disprin Plus by Reckitt Benckiser. The marketers extended Disprin brand into the Paracetamol category to launch Disprin Plus. Since Aspirin comes under price control the profitability of Disprin was very low. Even today the brand is sold at less than one rupee per tablet. To circumvent this issue, company launched Disprin Plus in 2001. It only had Paracetamol as the active ingredient (instead of Aspirin). The idea was to leverage the Disprin brand equity and also maximize the profitability of the brand (as Paracetamol is out of price control).

Again we see that the marketers dug their own graves without paying much regard to customer beliefs and attitudes. Jasravee observes “The core benefit of the brand was tinkered with a view to leverage the equity of the Disprin mother brand. What was ignored was the fact that ‘ingredient’ was part of the equity. Re-positioning efforts as Disprin Paracetamol also did not work. By 2005, the writing was on the wall”. Again the results were akin to the Savlon disaster. Sarvajeet remarks light heartedly that “It was like introducing a Bacardi brand of beer. A similar mistake was initially made when Crocin was extended into pain relief to take advantage of the analgesic market”. Similar example of marketers not doing their homework properly was the launch of Chawan Junior by Dabur. The consumers couldn’t connect with the product as one of the key ingredients of Chawan junior was Amla which doesn’t go well with milk - a common knowledge which was overlooked by Dabur marketers. Jasravee observes “This is a failure at the product formulation stage and again stems from inadequate understanding of product usage by consumers”.

Certain beliefs that are deep rooted in psyche will well serve if respected. In some cases the companies did not demonstrate adequate understanding of consumer purchase behaviour. An example of this was the launch of pediatric range of Crocin. Crocin syrup containing 125 mg of Paracetamol for 5 ml was introduced for kids to cure cold, cough and light fever. The syrup was introduced directly as an OTC product. Crocin syrup was not very well accepted by the parent community as they did not have the confidence on the product. Jasravee observes that “As with all the Pediatric drugs given to children, the parents always want to take any drugs only after the doctor’s consultation. Even parents who tend to ask chemists for an appropriate medicine of common ailments for themselves will not risk buying anything without the doctor’s advice”. The company had to remedy their strategy and ensure that Crocin Syrup was categorised as a prescription drug by GSK and doctors started providing prescriptions for Crocin Syrup for children.

The study also looks at various other case-lets of launch of Dettol plaster, Dettol shaving cream, and Dettol Extra soap (with moisturiser and a glycerine variant launched as a beauty soap). Sarvajeet observes “I am surprised that they didn’t launch a Dettol toothpaste to fight the germs in the mouth. Imagine using the toothpaste with a pungent taste and a clinical smell early in the morning. Makes you think you have woken up in a hospital bed”

Vision : The Soul of Strategy

"To make a contribution to the world by making tools for the mind that advance humankind." Apple

A vision statement is a bold and compelling statement, inspiring the organization, building aspirations and expectations within its stakeholders.

Vision is a ‘portrait of possibility’, it provides a compelling raison d’être, creates enthusiasm in an often boring organizational journey. Vision is the source of oracle, an interesting repository of imaginative stories and dreams.

Without a compelling vision, the strategy looks shorn of soul; strategy looks plain, drab, mundane & boring. A space exploration to find water on moon is merely a scientific experiment unless it is backed by the vision of colonization of space by men, of Star Wars, of building a human civilization in the most distant of stars.

A vision statement has to be a well told story, a story that is unique, provides vivid imagery and provides motivation for the employees. And yet the vision also has to be an interpreter of organizational culture and value systems. Great products are based on great consumer insights, great visions must carry a similar insights about the company, its leaders and its workforce.

Vision is not a hallucination. While it will be great if it has the magic of ‘Alice in Wonderland’, it can’t be just that. Vision also has to have actionable steps and encapsulate ‘a call to action’.

Compare it to 30 second advertisement on TV. Vision is like that. It needs to tell a story, engage and yet it needs to sell a plan as well. And akin to making of a great commercial, the vision statement requires a fair degree of eloquence, brevity & imagination. Like all great ideas, a compelling vision should seem obvious or very simple in hindsight. Google’s vision of “organizing the world’s information” seems incredibly simple and obvious.

In nutshell an inspiring vision statement should answer the following questions well

Does it tell an inspiring story – unique story providing vivid imagery (different from competitors) , provide a sense of direction & looks deep into the future, inspires and focuses on excellence

Is it authentic and does it strike a chord with the stakeholders esp. employees- motivates the employees , is rooted in organizational culture, subscribes with the values of the firm and is tangible to the market environment.

Does it have a call for action-provides a useful preamble to mission statements & strategy, aids decision making, guide the aspirations of the organization

Is it concrete, measurable and attainable -provides a point of reference to measure progress and evaluate programs and services as they contribute to reaching the vision . If the vision is to build the fastest boat, all decisions can be evaluated on whether they will add to speed or not. 

Would you care about Gross Employee Happiness as much as you would about Gross Profits?

What should make a toilet cleaner or a truck driver or an office assistant wake up every morning & look forward to the day ahead?

What makes a receptionist in a specific company perky and warm, and in the other cold & bored?

Is there more to business than just profits?

Is there a spiritual side to the business, something that makes the mundane meaningful …something that is transmitted like energy by workers on a swanky shop-floor, something that cries out aloud and asks why we are the way we are?


There’s enough in good companies that talks about what we want to do, what we want to achieve. There must be a compelling reason why we want to do what we want to do.

“I never wanted to be a businessman, I just wanted to changed the world” remarked Richard Branson, CEO, Virgin Group .


So how many businesses spell out exactly how they want to change the world. Most even do not make a pretense of trying to make a difference. So when you read the mission & vision statements (and strategy workshop summaries) of most companies, one fails to see a single inspiring statement, a statement that lays out the purpose that gives the employees a sense of a heroic journey that the company has envisaged.


Often it is difficult to read mission/vision statements with a straight face.


So how do you expect to pick yourself up , when you walk into your office on Monday morning after a lovely weekend. How do you plug yourself to the company’s energy and play? How do you connect emotionally to your workplace?


One of the difficulty with this intangible ‘the Spirit of Business’ is how to describe it. And once we have described it, how do we measure it . How do we know how far we have progressed on ‘Changing the World’ platform.


How do we measure the intangible, the one that really matters. And how do we create conditions that support the ‘Spirit of Business’.


One interesting way, in which this is being done by a country called Bhutan. For those who don’t know much about it , it is a small Buddhist monarchy with two mighty Asian neighbours- India & China; almost like a small peaceful village in the middle of two large metropolis cities.


While its two mighty neighbours add trillions to their GDPs, Bhutan has taken a different path. When asked about the Gross National Product of Bhutan, the Dragon King of the kingdom, changed the paradigm and coined Gross National Happiness.


In a simple yet profound Buddhist way he outlined that the purpose of his nation was to create happy citizens. And the goal of his government was to answer a fundamental question- How do we create a habitat of happiness ? How do we create conditions that support the growth of Gross National Happiness?


The GNP aimed to work on increasing things that really mattered to average citizens- the quality of our education, the health of our children, the strength of our marriages, our wisdom, our courage etc.


 In order to make it tangible Bhutan broke the GNH  into four themes or pillars. The four pillars of GNH include socio-economic development, preservation of cultural values, conservation of the natural environment and establishment of good governance.


These themes were further broken down into fairly tangible GNH indicators : standard of living; health of population; education; vitality and diversity of ecosystem; cultural vitality and diversity, use and balance of time; good governance; community vitality and emotional well being. For example, one indicator to measure diversity of ecosystem is to measure the percentage of forest cover. Only 16% of Bhutan’s land is arable, so there is pressure to fell trees and sell timber. But the law requires that the proportion of tree cover must not be less than 65%. At present about 72% of Bhutan is forest.


The GNH concept has lead to an amazing transformation of the country. In a recent development the Dragon King has devolved his power to his subjects. From an absolute monarchy , Bhutan became a constitutional monarchy. The king gave the power to his parliament to sack him (by passing a vote of no confidence).  Frankly speaking it is quite difficult to find parallels where an autocrat/monarch has done something similar of his own accord.


Today, more cannabis grows on Bhutan’s soil than grass, but in a kingdom with high GNH nobody smokes marijuana. Instead they feed it to their animals, often the pig, since marijuana is the most popular food for pigs. Incidentally, the pigs do fly in Bhutan.


It is about time we looked at the Gross Employee Happiness as an indicator of company’s success, its sustainability, its culture and  vitality. It is also a great way to look at performance .  64% of the world’s GDP is Service Businesses. Happy employees make a profitable service business.


So Intangibles matter. Purpose resonates. And the ‘Spirit of the Company’ needs to be resuscitated.

Taking your business to the next level

Taking your business to the next level