Drugs, brands and packaging

Drugs, brands and packaging

Packaging is becoming critical for the pharma industry. Aashruti Kak writes

It is an accepted fact that the packaging of a brand plays a large role in enhancing the consumer’s experience with the brand. Packaging has always been an important part of the marketing game plan of FMCG companies. Since long, pharma packaging in India remained functional rather than aesthetic. The only function of packaging was to carry the product and keep it stable, till it is consumed. However, manufacturers realised that they can build credibility and the user-product bond if consumers could ‘see’ the product. “Patients love to see the product that they are consuming. Thus transparent capsules with colourful beads inside are not only attractive but are also more trustworthy. A syrup in a transparent glass bottle is preferred a lot more than the amber colour bottle. Transparent blister packs are liked more than the aluminium strips,” says Gauri Chaudhari, Brand Consultant, FCB-Ulka Healthcare. “Pharma companies are also responding to this need. They are no longer hiding the medicines behind opaque covers,” she adds.

There is a lot that can be done in packaging in terms of the positioning of a product, as packaging is the face of the brand. There are also pass-offs which affect a brand. “You have a brand, which is being marketed in a particular category, then you have a host of brands which just mimic the packaging format or maybe the colour of the blister of that leader brand. You cannot call them either counterfeits or copy products. They are just genuine products coming from reputed companies with a proper manufacturing license,” says Avinash Mandale, Global Vice-President-Innovative Solutions, Bilcare Research. What these companies try to do is ride on the brand equity of the leader brand that has been created over a number of years. They end up affecting the sales of the main brand tremendously. Hence, the packaging of a product needs to be very unique at this stage so that they cannot be copied by anybody.

In the fine print

Packaging definitely has a very sound role in giving a strong brand identity to OTC drugs. “Unfortunately, even in this particular area, the packaging we have for OTCs is very similar to what we have for ethical products. If you see an OTC product, for instance Gelusil, although it is an OTC product, it doesn’t convey that it is one. It looks like a normal, typical medicinal pack. There needs to be a strong branding and an OTC appeal that reflects what it is meant for,” says Mandale. Colour branding needs to be very important in case of OTCs because in India people still remember and connect with the colour of the pack.

In OTC marketing, it is very critical that the patient gets the desired response the company is talking about. The information related to the administration should be written clearly, especially in the case of OTCs, because of the absence of a doctor to guide with the frequency of dosage. Even with prescription products, packaging should play the role of a guide to the consumer. Apart from the doctor, the package should also play a role in explaining the harmful effects of over-dosing. For instance, Bilcare has certain packaging systems for compliance where even if the person is not literate, certain markers on the pack tell the patient the dosage.

International medicines are more supportive to the user. “Package in the international markets are more patient friendly. This may not necessarily mean that they are always structurally different. But the fact is that they carry a lot of easy to understand information,” says Chaudhari. For instance, an anti-AIDS pack was accompanied by a toothbrush to remind the patient that the medicine had to be taken twice a day, may be immediately after brushing teeth, so that the patient will not forget. According to Chaudhari, abroad, OTC packaging mimics the FMCG industry. This could be due to that fact that the modern retail format is still in its infancy in India. The minute OTC brands come on the health aisles, they will have to sell themselves. They will not be able to hitch a free ride on the chemist’s push.


There are different age groups, different patient conditions or lifestyle requirements that need different packaging solutions. For example, the child resistant cap for children is seen across the western world. Arthritic patients often have different requirements. Tylenol in USA launched a special yet simple pack for arthritis patients. “The toughest task for an arthritic is to open a lid of the bottle containing medicine. They do not get enough of a grip to turn open the lid. Tylenol launched a pack with a hole in cap. A patient was expected to push a pencil in it and push it open. Such thinking not only makes things easy functionally but also bonds patients emotionally,” informs Chaudhari.

There are also certain examples in India. Acidity can strike at any time, hence chronic sufferers tend to carry antacid tablets in their pockets. Digene’s blister pack is a great help for such patients. A simple and square shaped Digene pack can be easily carried along. This is a good example of lifestyle driven packaging. Novo Nordisk’s Novopen is another case in point. Diabetes sufferers who are on insulin therapy may need to carry the medication along with them wherever they go. Prefilled-Novopens understand this need perfectly, as the pack looks just like a pen, it can be carried anywhere. Such packaging has the additional potential to take away the stigma of a disease like diabetes.

Countering counterfeits

Pharma companies extensively use holograms to fight away counterfeits. The basic issue pertaining to holograms is that when it comes to prescription products, the patient has no understanding or awareness that he needs to look for a hologram while purchasing a particular medicine. Neither is it practical as you cannot advertise a prescription product and tell the patients to look for a hologram every time they buy it. This is one of the basic limitations. The net aspect today is that even holograms are copied. Mandale offers another solution, “The colour of the packaging can also play a role in limiting counterfeiting. If there is a product which has a material with a unique colour that can’t be copied, and it becomes registered in the mind of the patient, then it becomes a very strong feature with which a person can associate and recognise the product when he goes to buy it.”

Designing is also going to be a very significant tool in packaging. A usual pharma pack is in a very routine optimal design in two, three or five rows. There will be a design element, which would specifically resolve a particular concern that a brand may be facing. In terms of materials there are a lot of innovations, like unique materials, which can deal with counterfeit problems. There are design solutions to take care of the issue of compliance. “In fact, at Bilcare, we have packaging systems to provide containing, optimal packaging complex study, based on which we are in a position to recommend optimal packaging complex as part of our cost solution,” says Mandale.

So what market opportunities can be foreseen with the growth in the pharma packaging industry? “There has been a fantastic growth in the market, especially in lifestyle business management therapy. The challenges are going to be more significant in terms of competitive pressure. Competition is very high, so there will be a constant struggle to differentiate a particular product to ensure the continuation of its therapy,” concludes Mandale.