Friday, July 30, 2010


This article by U NARAYANADAS on branding in the pharmaceutical industry, the third in a series of four appeared in Express Pharma Pulse of February 03, 2005

One of the chapter headings in an interesting book called FORENSIC MARKETING is ‘Interrogate a brand till it confesses its strengths’! Should it not spur us to think, asks U NARAYANA DAS


George Bernard Shaw captioned Caesar and Cleopatra’s preface with the poser: "Better than Shakespeare?" Shaw and Shakespeare may appear incongruous in an article on branding but consider this: poets and artists, playwrights and politicians all vie to have the public interested in their work. To achieve this, firstly their work has to have intrinsic merit and secondly it should have distinguishing features.

Bernard Shaw’s prefaces written in powerful prose are as popular as his plays. Shaw did not mean any disrespect to the Bard of Avon as the first sentence of his preface clarifies: “I shall be remembered as long as Shakespeare and Aristophanes or shall be forgotten a clown down the turn of the century.”

Bernard Shaw had merely positioned his play as different from Shakespeare’s. Some critics say that Shakespeare portrayed his male characters as weak-kneed and his plays had only heroines, no heroes. In contrast, Shaw’s delineation of Caesar was sharper and more masculine. Who would read Shaw’s play if it were to be in the same mould as Shakespeare’s and on the same subject?


Some art critics believe that Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa became as popular as it did because the ‘subject’ was a ‘departure’ from tradition. Divinity or nobility were subjects of art till then. da Vinci introduced a common housewife as his subject in Mona Lisa (She was the wife of a poor nobleman who commissioned the painting but could not pay da Vinci for it).


During the election 2004, Indian media was agog about political parties marketing their icons and philosophies as brands. The new age of marketing infected the media into branding (pun intended) political parties but political parties have all along been indulging in it explicitly or implicitly.

From Indira Gandhi’s 'Garibi Hatao' to the BJP’s (in)famous 'India Shining,' all such slogans have been positioning statements. India Shining was a case in point where a political party’s positioning statement did not find favour with its target audience and the brand was rejected. And in the US, presidential election campaigns are virtually conducted by Madison Avenue.


The concept of positioning is closely inter-related with market segmentation, target marketing, product differentiation, consumer benefit and brand image. Brand image is what the consumer perceives of the attributes of a brand vis-à-vis brand identity - what the marketer intends to portray.

Chloromycetin is a good example of consumer perception as it is often confused with its generic content chloramphenical. Or the brand name Tossex, which is not a sex stimulant. The expression 'Ivy League' is often misperceived in India as standing for scholastic excellence akin to Harvard or Oxford. The facts are different: eight universities in the US north-east joined in a league to play annual sports tournaments. As the universities, which formed the league, have green ivy on their walls the tournaments are called Ivy League tournaments.

There are many definitions of positioning in marketing literature but the most apt seems to be the one given by Beckman, Kurtz and Boone in Foundations of Marketing: ‘Product positioning refers to the consumer’s perception of a product’s attributes, use, quality and advantages and disadvantages in relation to competing brands’. The operative part of this definition lays stress on the consumer’s perception of a brand’s attributes.


The note on H2 receptor antagonists in the British National Formulary mentions that cimetidine, ranitidine and famotidine have similar pharmacological and safety profiles. Cimetidine (Tagamet) the first to be introduced was a real chart buster and obviated the necessity for surgery for peptic ulcers by almost 90 per cent.

As the first to be introduced, Cimetidine had undergone post marketing surveillance by the time ranitidine made its appearance. For the introduction of ranitidine (Zantac), Glaxo needed a platform to overcome entry barriers and challenge the incumbent.

Side effects - especially its binding androgen receptors - observed with ’long term use of cimetidine in high doses’ (Goodman and Gilman qualifies its warning) came in handy to ‘knock its block off’, as the Americans would say in boxing parlance. Glaxo seized the opportunity and positioned Zantac as an anti peptic-ulcerant with a better safety profile.

The rest, as they say, is history! Tagamet lost 50 per cent of its market share in the year Zantac was launched. Zantac usurped Tagamet’s Guinness Book slot and the entire top brass including the Chairman of SKF the company that launched the wonder drug (that probably rendered many surgeons jobless), lost their jobs.


In India when Glaxo made a foray into the ‘vitamin B complex with C’ segment, the company positioned Cobadex as a ‘co-prescription B complex’. The suggestion inherent in the brand name seems to be the obvious explanation. (Interestingly, Nancy Powers’ pocket medical dictionary includes Cobadex as a steroid cream in its list of proprietary medicines marketed in Europe).

But a more logical marketing explanation would be the company’s intention to piggy ride with the antibiotic market, which accounted for 20 per cent of the pharma market (then).
The company had to contend with a very strong number one in Becosules, followed by Surbex-T at number two, Becozyme C Forte, Beplex Forte and Stresscaps et al grouped together at a lower level.

Glaxo apparently sacrificed myriad indications (in which a ‘B complex with C’ could be prescribed) to be exclusively remembered as a co-prescription B complex. Pfizer launched an epic ’fight-back’, but was forced to make a course shift grouping Becosules and Terramycin together in all its subsequent promotions, a subtle acknowledgement of Glaxo’s positioning of Cobadex.

Glaxo’s aggressive entry however could not dislodge Becosules from its number one perch but achieved the company’s secondary objective of making the brand a big fish in a small pond. Marketing battles between the two - which may be called the Indian pharma equivalent of the famous Cola wars - expanded the market with Cobadex eventually settling at number two.


Jack Trout and Al Ries recommend in their 'Twenty-two Immutable Laws of Marketing,' starting a new category as the best way to launch a new product successfully. If it is not possible to start a new category, they say, start at least a new sub-category.

The advent of 'Schedule V' in the eighties brought about changes vitamin formulae. Zinc became a cameo as companies made a virtue of what they were allowed to include to compensate for trimming down vitamins. Similarly anti-oxidants was a successful attempt at sub-categorisation as multi-vitamin mineral supplements always had the few ingredients seen in anti-oxidants, but biotin and selenium, which were not considered important earlier, were assigned cameo roles in the new (sub) category.


The objective of any positioning is to gain the elusive perceptual position in the consumer’s mind, often described as the black box.

The success of the strategy depends on the marketer’s ability to communicate the concept to the consumer and win instant recall. One of the chapter headings in an interesting book called FORENSIC MARKETING is ‘Interrogate a brand till it confesses its strengths’!

Should it not spur us to think? Taglines and mnemonics should emerge from a thorough audit of the strengths of a brand vis-à-vis competition.

The writer is a Hyderabad based practising manager and marketing consultant. Email:

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