Suresh Kumar

When it comes to OTC brands for children (Over-the-counter products that don’t need a doctor’s prescription. E.g. milk beverages like Horlicks, Complan, Grow, Pediasure; health tonics like Scott’s Emulsion; a host of vitamin candies and so on), every marketer has to make an important decision: whether to communicate the product proposition to the mother or to her child.

The mother needs to be convinced that the product is really good for her child’s growth, it has the necessary vitamins and minerals and that it has been scientifically researched and created. She will not mind paying a premium if she is convinced of the ‘goodness’ of the product. A child on the other hand hardly wants to listen to the goodness story. Try feeding a child some spinach and you will know! What a child wants (for the purposes of this piece, a child is anyone who is 12 or below) is something cool and fun and vibrant, something that the peers approve of. It has to fit into their lifestyle of comics, cartoons, schools, fun and games.

The child resents any product being thrust upon him/her but can’t help it because s/he does not have the money to go and buy what s/he wants. This is especially true of milk beverages for children up to the age of around 6. However, from the age of 6 onwards, they are able to convey clearly their likes and dislikes to their parents and can highly influence a purchase decision. They still don’t have the money to buy things on their own though.

Products that only talk to mothers hammer in the goodness of the product – how it has been scientifically formulated for the growing child – this often results in a boring albeit effective piece of communication. A typical story would consist of how ingredients like DHA, Choline, Taurine etc positively affect a child’s growth. The mother forks out an astronomical sum, convinced that the product is really effective, but this is no guarantee that the child will gulp it down. How many times have we seen a mother with a glass of milk beverage in hand, pleading with her child to drink it? Clients tend to be obsessed with the scientific story – because they have invested so much time and money on research, they seem justified in doing so – but the children don’t see it that way.

Some OTC product commercials highlight the problem – that the child is not getting the necessary ingredients a growing body needs through food and therefore the specially formulated milk is the answer. Again, a hit with the mothers, but not necessarily with the kids.

Ribena, made of blackcurrant syrup that is high in Vitamin C, is an interesting case. It started off in the 1930s as a nutritional drink in UK that went on sale in hospitals and nursing homes. Today it is a cool, hip brand targetting children/teenagers in many parts of the world. It is seen as a drink for casual consumption, not unlike colas. The communication (from the packaging to the advertising) is very contemporary and upbeat and talks to the youngsters. The communication always says that it is rich in Vitamin C but that is about as scientific as they get. They have kept up with the times by introducing a pouch pack. It’s a very portable, easy to pick up and light to carry pack and, because it is re-sealable, can be used again. How cool is that for youngsters. Despite talking to children, mothers don’t think Ribena would harm their children the way colas would.

For drinks like Ribena (less in price compared to milk powders and more of an impulse purchase product for casual consumption) such a one-sided communication is justified. For milk powders and other tonics however, one needs to speak to mothers but we need to speak to the child too.

That’s probably why more and more OTC milk brands are talking to the mother as well as the child. The commercial talks to the child by making heroes out of the children drinking the milk. It also makes a slight detour in the story to incorporate graphics and animation that depict how the milk works in a child’s body. The milk is shown passing through the intestine resulting in a healthy glow that envelops the body. It’s the credibility story that mothers love. They want to be sure that they are buying only the best for their child for which they are willing to pay almost anything. (And why not, especially when we are hearing stories about tainted milk powders?)

There can be one aspect in the commercial that talks to both the mother and the child and that is how tasty the product is. There is nothing that makes a mother more happy than seeing her child gulping down a glass of milk and relishing it too.

Such a product if supported by attractive premiums and POS will generate tremendous interest at the retail level. Add to this, the approval of doctors (they can give away sample packs at their dispensaries), and you have a winner OTC brand on hand.


Suresh Kumar is a Creative Consultant and has worked with some OTC brands before. He can be reached at hopeasha@gmail.com.