Campaign Trail is our analysis of some of the best and worst new creative efforts from the marketing world. View past columns in the archives here.
Excedrin kicked off a campaign targeting an unexpected consumer group for a pharmaceutical brand. Keying into the gamer community's propensity for headaches, the pain relief brand from GlaxoSmithKline tailored its latest effort to video gamers' discerning eye for detail, complete with fresh creative that incorporates imagery like console controllers and medicine capsules.
An animated army of gaming "healers" stars in the new campaign spots that weave in sights and sounds typically found in a video game. The 10- to 15-second clips aim to demonstrate how Excedrin is the "ultimate ally" for players, as healers in games often play support roles and restore health to allies. Created with agency Weber Shandwick, each clip closes with the line "game over for headaches."
The awareness video series and broader campaign stem from research Excedrin conducted to highlight how headaches can get in the way of gameplay and cause a decrease in focus, concerns that have been exacerbated by increases in screen time during the pandemic. To help gamers navigate the minefield of screen-related headache triggers, Excedrin partnered with a Twitch streamer and a clinical psychologist to develop a six-step mindfulness routine, including hand massages to avoid cramps as well as music and deep-breathing breaks.
"This is the first health or pharma partnership with Twitch with a custom integration at this scale," said Rishi Mulgund, Excedrin brand director. "We are for stopping headaches, no matter where they are. So playing both sides — medicinal and nonmedicinal — makes sense."
Zeroing in on gamers
The ballooning gaming audience has become an attractive consumer group to marketers. Brands from categories like fast food and retail have already embedded themselves as regular players in the space. The Excedrin effort points to how the appeal of engaging this increasingly valuable audience is reaching beyond categories with an obvious connection to gaming and extending into new areas like pharmaceuticals.
Excedrin zoomed in on this group through extensive social listening and consumer research around where headaches make the most impact to activities people love, according to Mulgund. This pushed the GSK brand to dig deeper through research. Its study shows that 71% of gamers are concerned about headaches linked to prolonged screen time, yet most of them play through the pain. Further, 92% reported spending more time playing during the pandemic, exposing themselves to higher levels of headache triggers and pushing Excedrin last year to begin orienting its marketing around helping this community.
Paid media for the campaign include the "Healing Academy" videos, banner ads and placements across Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.
Leading the influencer element of Excedrin's effort is professional gamer Matthew "Nadeshot" Hagg who is helping to educate the gaming community about headache prevention and the unintended consequence of the "no quit" mentality in esports. The partnership marks the first time a pharma company has teamed with a Twitch streamer at this scale, per the brand, and is one that could drum up significant reach among Nadeshot's 1.6 million followers. He founded the 100 Thieves gaming company, which Fortune ranked No. 5 in its 2020 list of most valuable esports companies. As a headache sufferer and Excedrin user, Nadeshot discusses the medicine and the co-created mindfulness routine during live play sessions on Twitch as well as on his other social channels.
"I've experienced headaches while gaming for many years, but it's not something that's widely discussed within the gaming world. Instead, many of us brush it off or 'tough it out' to keep playing," Nadeshot said in the press release. "The truth is, headaches can take you out of the game and have an impact on performance — and no one wants that."
The "Excedrin Gamer Routine" is available on a microsite and details tips to thwart headaches during gameplay, such as taking eye breaks, using deep breathing and starting with a positive mindset. The mindfulness approach — dubbed a "cheat code for keeping your head in the game" — was tested in a live study with real gamers and found to enhance focus, improve performance and manage headache triggers. Gamers who practiced the routine regularly also reported higher energy levels, willingness to game longer and fewer headaches than those who didn't, per the study by Excedrin.
Excedrin's group of ambassadors includes 12 additional Twitch influencers to host branded livestreams.
Designing for the most discerning viewer
Previously, the GSK brand has leveraged a range of experimental creative to connect with consumers around headaches. Excedrin in 2017 used a standalone virtual reality experience to simulate a debilitating migraine headache, later extending it into a multichannel campaign after it went viral.
"Excedrin as a leader has a long history of campaigns over time that have shined a light on the unspoken portions of head pain," Mulgund said.
Though the two efforts differ in format and target audience, the strategy and message behind them are similar in that they bring deeper understanding around head pain's impact on daily life, according to Mulgund.
The key is tailoring campaigns to each specific group down to the tiniest detail, from tweaking media strategy to incorporating terminology and design elements a discerning target viewer would appreciate, he said. Excedrin carried that level of detail into real life, sending streamers physical crates that resemble those in many video games.
"That loot box and the detail within it is exactly like the detail one would expect when they open up a loot box within a game itself, with health and prizes and things," he said. "That authenticity from both the animated content all the way to real life really showed off, and we're seeing the impact of it already."
A week after campaign launch, feedback has been "overwhelmingly positive," per Mulgund, who added that several users said the video ads are higher quality than some games they've seen on Twitch.
Excedrin is looking to extend the campaign throughout 2021 and into next year, with plans to forge a long-term relationship with the gaming audience.
"Working with Twitch, it became very clear that authenticity to the gamer, to the audience, is the absolute most important aspect of breaking through with this group," Mulgund said. "You can't just run a national campaign on Twitch. It really needs to be bespoke."