Hip to headaches: GlaxoSmithKline's culture-savvy Excedrin rolls TV ads and custom boxes

Contemporary headache causes headlined Excedrin boxes last week, debuting at the same time as new TV and online ads. (GlaxoSmithKline)

How do you describe a headache? GlaxoSmithKline listened on social media for some ideas—and used them to help develop a TV and online video campaign for its consumer brand Excedrin. And that's just one part of a new Excedrin push that follows GSK's lean-into-pop-culture approach for the brand.

The TV and video campaign “We See Your Pain” combined social listening with data mining and field research to find specific terms consumers used to describe their headaches, and then translated them into visuals—think pounding waves and lightning storms inside people’s heads. Field testing confirmed the words and images worked, and Excedrin launched two 15-second ads last week.

Meanwhile, GSK came up with the idea to create custom boxes of Excedrin printed with one of three different causes of contemporary headaches. "Adulting" was one of them. So were "Commuting" and "Bad Dates." Weber Shandwick in New York was the agency partner on both efforts.

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“It’s not just that Excedrin sees your pain, but we also know what causes the pain and we really wanted to find a rich way to connect more closely with our consumers,” said Sonal Modi, associate brand manager for Excedrin at GSK.

The boxes were a huge hit. More than 11,200 free custom-labeled samples were claimed on Excedrin’s website by 3 p.m. on launch day. Excedrin also handed out 2,300 samples of the commuter edition to people at Penn Station in New York the same morning, to an “overwhelmingly positive” response, she said.

The response was so strong, in fact, that GSK is considering another limited-edition box run, Modi said.

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This is not the first time Excedrin has tapped into cultural zeitgeist to connect with consumers. In 2016, it created social media ads around the presidential debates and the headaches they likely caused. Then, last year, Excedrin ran several sports-related headache promotions, including one centered on the Cleveland Browns—perennial losers in the NFL—and the football-fan headaches they cause.

“Our personality has really shone through as a brand the last few years,” Modi said. “This campaign with the limited editions is the next iteration of the equity we’ve been building as a headache expert who is also relatable and empathetic.”