Consumer Healthy Habits: OTC

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Health and wellness are ever-present, but they’re under an even brighter spotlight thanks to the pandemic. This four-part series examines the top ways consumers manage their health. It connects broad research findings to search trend analysis to better understand the consumer mindset and intent in our digital-first world.

Explore other topics in the series: VITAMINS  |  EXERCISE  |  DIET & NUTRITION


Consumers are constantly weighing the benefits, risks, and decisions they make about their health and the products they buy. From pain relief to immunity, cold and flu to personal care, over-the-counter offerings play a huge role in health management today. Almost 4 in 10 consumers take OTC medication in some form regularly, whether they purchase online or make a pit stop at the drugstore.

Knowledge drives behavior

Within the OTC category, our research shows consumer alignment with knowledge and behavior — those who take OTC meds the most know the most about them. This knowledge steadily increases with age: Boomers and Gen Xers are most likely to take OTC medications now. Overall, 77% of respondents felt knowledgeable about OTC medication, with similar numbers among women and men. 

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Leverage information to create opportunity

Our research shows that 1 in 3 consumers — especially men and those in younger generations — would like more information about OTC medications. This tracks with our other findings about the knowledge and behavior of these demographic segments. Millennials are most interested in additional OTC information (40%), compared to 38% of Gen Zers, 30% of Gen Xers, and 28% of boomers. Men are more interested in this type of information than women (36% vs. 30%, respectively).

This creates an opportunity for brands and publishers to produce content and information that is specifically aligned with these segments, especially considering that they are already raising their hands for more information. 

Web-based wellness

Beyond doctors or specialists (51%), people interested in more information about OTC medications are turning to internet searches (44%) and health and wellness information sites (44%). While social media ranks lower on their list than search, the audience of people who take OTC medications can be reached most often on Facebook (33%) and YouTube (33%).

Search trend analysis

Consumers have questions about OTC medications and are turning to the internet for answers. Predictably, Healthline’s SEO experts have observed an increase in searches related to COVID-19 treatment as well as anxiety. At the same time, fewer people are searching for OTC meds in combination with individual conditions. Specifically, search interest for motion sickness pills is down nearly 50% compared to this time last year. Here are a few specifics:

What’s UP

What’s DOWN

COVID-19-related topics: “Hydroxychloroquine over the counter” is up 1,100% in the last 30 days, with continued search volume around this topic following earlier COVID-19-related treatment news.

Condition specific: Searches for OTC meds for specific conditions are down across multiple areas. For example, “OTC meds for asthma” is down 24%, “OTC meds for gerd” is down 19%, and “OTC meds for ED” is down 24% over the past 90 days.

Residual effects of quarantine: The global pandemic continues its impact on consumers: “over the counter anti-anxiety” is up 400% over the past 90 days, and “best over the counter sleep aid” is up 60% in the last 30 days.

Motion sickness: With many people still under stay-at-home orders, search interest for motion sickness pills (e.g., Dramamine) is down nearly 50% compared to this time last year.

Combination concerns: “Can you take Advil with prednisone” is a breakout search over the past 30 days. Our experts say this is related to people with COVID-19 and chronic lung conditions, such as asthma.

Branded search is strong across the OTC category, with consumers searching specifically for Advil, Benadryl, Motrin, and Tylenol. People are also seeking out more general comparisons and categories, including “anti-inflammatory drugs,” “children’s ibuprofen,” and “over the counter anti-inflammatory.” 

One interesting yearly trend: Searches for Advil are 22% higher in October, December, January, and February, which roughly aligns with festive celebrations, such as Halloween, Christmas, New Year’s, and the Super Bowl. This also follows the flu season in the United States, where Advil is often used to treat symptoms associated with the flu.

Meeting consumer demand

Healthline Media provides the clarity consumers need to live healthier, stronger lives by responding to search insights with thoughtful and relevant content. Brands and marketers would do well to meet consumers online, where they’ve demonstrated a heightened intent to learn more about their health and the healthy habits that can make a difference in their lives.

Reach out to your Healthline Media representative or email us to learn how you can take action on these insights to boost your brand.

Explore other topics in Consumer Healthy Habits:

VITAMINS  |  EXERCISE  |  DIET & NUTRITION

Sources: State of Health and Wellness Study, N = 2,024 US Adults, June 2019. Healthline.com Google Analytics. Google Trends, August & September 2020.

About Healthline Media

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