That consumers are hesitant to purchase off-brand OTC drugs is not only a tribute to the marketing power of the brand-name OTC drug companies, but also consumers' experience with private label brands in other arenas, such as grocery products.
"If you've had a bad experience
with a private label brand in another setting
you might be less willing to buy an off-label
or store-brand OTC medication," says Mary
Jenkins, vice president of clinical services for
Innoviant, a pharmacy benefits administrator and
unit of Fiserv Health.
Same factory, different box
What consumers don't realize is that in many cases,
the brand-name and off-brand drug may be produced
in the same factory, just placed in different
boxes. So a store-brand bottle of pain-relieving
ibuprofen may come from the same manufacturer
as the brand-name ibuprofen.
So why do consumers keep going for the more expensive store brand?
all the evidence of the past 20 years that there
is no difference between brand and off-brand
OTC medications, consumers continue to buy the
more expensive drugs. ... ”
"Expectations," says Jenkins.
"These big consumer products companies spend
millions of dollars in direct-to-consumer advertising
to create a perception among consumers that they
are safer and more reliable."
Findlay agrees, noting that not only do manufacturers of brand-name OTC drugs spend heavily on advertising, but their products also tend to be more "front and center on store shelves," where such placement is more likely to catch the eye of a consumer in a hurry.
"Despite all the evidence of
the past 20 years that there is no difference
between brand and off-brand OTC medications, consumers
continue to buy the more expensive drugs, even
though they could save considerable amounts of
money by purchasing less expensive versions of
the same drug," he says.
Read the label
With so many versions of brand-name and off-brand
over-the-counter medications -- there are more
than 20 different versions of Tylenol for pain
relief, colds and allergies, for example -- it
can be difficult to compare brand names to each
other and to off-brands to make sure that you're
getting exactly the medication that you need.
But armed with some
knowledge, a few minutes and help from your
local pharmacist, it is possible to save a significant
amount of money in shopping for OTC drugs.
You can find out on the back of
the box whether a particular brand-name OTC drug
designed to treat a particular condition is identical
to another brand-name OTC drug or an off-brand
name OTC medication, says Sean Karbowicz, clinical
pharmacy manager for Regence Blue Cross Blue Shield.