Abreva, the only non-prescription cold sore medicine approved by the FDA to shorten healing time, was facing a looming threat: the loss of exclusivity for its active ingredient, docosanol. It was expected that soon after GSK's patent expired, Abreva would quickly face generic competitors which would enter the marketplace and erode share, particularly with price-conscious consumers.
In anticipation of this threat, the brand knew it needed new sources of long-term growth to bring new consumers into the category. Rather than increase efforts to grow with its already established target audience, Abreva wanted to introduce itself to a new, younger audience who was dealing with cold sores for the first time. This group was dubbed "early sufferers," and because they were new to the category, Abreva could establish itself as the best initial treatment for cold sores and better defend itself as a premium product.
Objective and Context:
The objective of the campaign was to bring a new, younger audience into the cold sore category. While Abreva has been on the market for years and benefits from a strong awareness with its traditional audience, the brand had little leverage in terms of equity or brand familiarity.
To measure success, Abreva had two key performance indicators:
Research helped qualify that a typical "early sufferer" is someone much younger (average age of 15.5) and more likely to be female. This differs from Abreva's seasoned cold-sore sufferer, who is older (average age of 42), has a better understanding of what to expect from his or her cold sores, and is more likely to treat them upon feeling the symptoms.
Because they are dealing with a cold sore for the first time, early sufferers have a limited understanding of how to diagnose or treat the problem. Unlike a seasoned sufferer, who is likely to ask a pharmacist or conduct research online, early sufferers reach for their mobile phones in a somewhat panicked state and check the social networks that are integrated into their daily lives (including Facebook, YouTube, and Instagram) for help. These consumers are wary of brands — especially pharmaceuticals — and trust their peers and influencers more than traditional media and information sources. These insights highlighted Abreva's need to take a different approach to making something as sensitive as treating a cold sore relevant to an audience who wasn't interested in learning about them.
Abreva worked with Google to leverage insights from its platforms, including YouTube, Android, and Chrome. Based on a data review that included demographics, search, behavioral patterns, purchase history, and lifestyle interests, four main segments emerged and formed the basis for how Abreva developed its creative idea and delivered its campaign:
Overall Campaign Execution:
Abreva knew that running an edited version of its 30-second TV commercial on mobile would not work. Instead, it created a new concept: “With Abreva, you decide how you show up.” The campaign was designed for six-second online formats, was rooted in insights, and gave Abreva the ability to tailor its creative to its four audience segments.
The campaign ran on YouTube, which provided two advantages:
When early sufferers casually searched on YouTube, a programmatically tailored ad appeared. Their affinity profile determined the video concept and call to action, and their real-time search intent instigated the initial headline. Abreva’s copy was heavily guided by search trends and often-used words depending on the search-related vernacular. For example, the copy included “get rid of,” which is a search term used 11 times more often than “heal.” In total, Abreva delivered 119 different ads against 43 unique audiences and 53 unique YouTube video topics.
The campaign was designed and developed entirely for mobile because Abreva knew its assets for this audience would be seen on a mobile device 100 percent of the time.
The campaign, which ran from November 1 through December 31, 2018, exceeded the original performance metrics for campaign awareness and brand interest:
While this was an awareness-driving campaign and therefore was not a primary KPI, survey respondents still showed a 75 percent increase in purchase intent after seeing the Abreva creative.