What Sort of Pain Relief Do You Want? ~ A powerful lesson from a drug’s USP and the illegal targeting methods used to sell it

Regardless of your views on the underlying morality, here’s a one of the best illustrations you'll ever see of USPs and targeting methods increasing a product’s value.

We’re all familiar with Ibuprofen, the popular anti-inflammatory and pain relief drug.

We use it to relieve symptoms of common conditions such as toothache, headaches, back aches, colds, flu, period and joint pain.

No question, it’s wonderfully effective.

But to use a marketer’s jargon, it’s become ‘commoditised’. It’s dirt cheap because the patent expired in 1984. These days anyone can make it and it’s available everywhere.

Supermarket and pharmacy branded tablets retail for approximately 9 cents each if you buy them in 24 packs; much less if you buy them in bulk.

But drug marketers figured out a way to use the power of unique selling points to make Ibuprofen more valuable.

They created “fast acting” Ibuprofen.

The Same But Different

While formulations for the fast and non-fast acting varieties are not exactly the same, there’s apparently no appreciable difference between their effects.

Even so, customers place much higher value on the promise of faster relief.

Depending on the brand, fast acting varieties retail for anything from 18 cents each and upwards.


Customers don’t really seem to care how much faster they can expect relief, either. The marketers don’t put that information on the packaging. But Ibuprofen with that extra bit of something special, on the label at least, sells for twice the regular price.

The story doesn’t end there, either...

Clear Labelling or Blatant Quackery?

One of the best known Ibuprofen brands is Nurofen, whose owner is Reckitt Benkiser, the British multinational.

In 2015 Australia’s advertising standards regulator, the ACCC, took Reckitt Benckiser to court for misleading representations of Nurofen.

Nurofen USP and Targeting

For several years the company had been selling four separately branded lines of the same product.

They offered different packs of Nurofen labelled for Migraines, Back Pain, Period Pains and Tension Headaches.

They were all the exact same pills as the regular fast acting Nurofen. But they retailed for around 40 cents per tablet, instead of 20 cents.

All the company had to do to double the price of its fast acting Nurofen line was separately target sufferers of four different ailments with the promise of something that met their particular needs.

And remember, at 20 cents per tablet, it was already selling at more than double the price of the ordinary, non fast-acting Ibuprofen.

Legal in Most Cases

Perhaps you’re horrified at what Reckitt Benckiser did.

I’m not.

Yes, they definitely broke Australian law in this case.

But if they’d been re-packaging the same cleaning agent for different types of kitchen surface, or the same insect killer for different types of insect there would have been no problem.

Had it not been for the fact they were selling drugs, their tactics would have been perfectly legitimate.

Reckitt Benckiser landed itself in hot water over Nurofen because Australian law has some special rules governing claims about medicating specific types of pain.

In the long run of course, it’s wise if you make your Unique Selling Points stand up to scrutiny.

In the case of fast-acting Ibuprofen versus non-fast-acting, manufacturers do this by creating a slightly different formulation that ticks a few extra boxes in lab tests.

But even if you don’t, as Nurofen showed, these tactics can turn a very ordinary cheap product into something worth many times more.

Personally, I think the bigger sin is the one the law allows—making claims about faster acting Ibuprofen.

It’s a dubious, hard to disprove claim about the effect, rather than a truthful one about the application.

The Nurofen packets didn’t lie when they said the tablets were good for period pains after all. They just omitted all the other symptoms they were good for!

I’ve recently been shopping around for cloud hosting for a website. I couldn’t help but notice how some web hosts are now packing the exact same hosting for different types of content management system, Wordpress, Magento, Drupal etc.

Is it dishonest?

I don’t think so. They’re quickly letting customers know they have something that meets their particular needs.

So what’s your USP - and who’s it best suited for? Are you trying to target too many different customer types?

Perhaps like Nurofen, you can double the price by simply narrowing your focus of your target market.