US: What are the deciding factors when purchasing over-the-counter drugs? Most say it’s not ads
April 20th, 2023, Janice Fernandes

US: What are the deciding factors when purchasing over-the-counter drugs? Most say it’s not ads

In this piece we look at what types of over-the-counter (OTC) medications Americans buy and what influences their purchase decision. Data from YouGov Profiles reveals that the most common OTC medication that Americans purchase is for cold and flu relief (39%).

Nearly two in five Americans also say they purchase allergy prevention and treatment, and internal pain relief medicines (38% each). First aid supplies (37%) follow close behind rounding up the top four types of drugs consumers have purchased in the last six months.

The share is nearly halved with fewer than two in ten consumers saying they have purchased heartburn prevention drugs and antidiarrheal or laxative meds (18% each).

Only 16% of Americans have purchased a nasal spray in the last six months, which might see some increase with the latest FDA approval for naloxone.

Surprisingly only 8% of Americans say they have purchased contraceptive, one of the least likely OTC drugs purchased in the last six months and only more popular than smoking cessation aids like nicotine gum/ patches (4%).

So what factors determine which OTC medicines Americans choose?

Overall, consumers are most likely to purchase the same OTC drugs they have used in the past, with nearly half of the population (49%) saying that this is how they choose one brand over another. Price (47%) and value for money (41%) follow close behind. However, there is a generational divide among Americans when deciding to buy one brand over another.

Younger generations are likely to give more importance to the price of the medicine (Gen Z 39%; Millennial 41%; Gen X 51%) and then look at medicines that have worked for them in the past (Gen Z 38%; Millennial 39%; Gen X 48%).

Brand name recognition is the next most influential factor with around a third of all consumers citing it as the reason they decide to buy a particular brand over another (33%). Consumers of all generations share similar purchase decisions.

Americans from the Silent Generation are more likely to rely on doctor recommended drugs (32%). While around a third of Gen Z consumers also say they decide on which OTC drugs to buy based on doctor recommendations (32%), recommendations from friends/family/colleagues may be slightly more influential (33%).

Around one in eight Gen Z-ers make their choice based on online research (12%) and 10% of millennials also follow the same path but fewer than one in ten older consumers are influenced by what is said on the internet – 7% each of Gen X, Baby Boomer and Silent Gen.

Advertising through any medium will not give high returns because fewer than one in 20 consumers say they are influenced to buy OTC drugs by advertisements.

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Methodology: YouGov Profiles is based on continuously collected data and rolling surveys, rather than from a single limited questionnaire. Profiles data for the United States is nationally representative and weighted by age, gender, education, region, and race. Learn more about Profiles

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