Selling the uncomfortable to denial

Posted by Dave CollinsMarketing

If you sell haemorrhoid treatments, you have a number of problems.

Problem 1: Despite haemorrhoids being incredibly common, no-one likes to admit that they have them. Even to themselves.

Problem 2: Haemorrhoids really aren’t amusing, yet they’re somehow funny to talk about

Problem 3: Haemorrhoids are associated with a very intimate part of the body, whose main function is to emit poo.

Problem 4: Haemorrhoids are often associated with old people. And unless you correctly fall into the senior age category, most people don’t want to be associated with age.

I couldn’t help but wonder: how do you market a product whose users don’t want to think about or be associated with?

So I went searching for ads and websites.

Unsurprisingly, none of the websites that I found showed so much as a hint of grey hair and old age.

This was typical:

With piles but curiously happy

You could argue that these surprisingly happy people are demonstrating the results of the treatment, but I have my doubts. Marketing-hype aside, there are limits to how happy you can be from either inserting a suppository or rubbing some lotion into that area.

Another company chose what I thought was quite a clever approach. Instead of showing fake relief, they chose instead to demonstrate the perceived benefits of their solution. I genuinely thought this was quite cunning. Aside from the obvious question of where the driver has gone:

Imagine your piles on padded seats...

The overall themes were simple. Youth. Reassurance. “This is what people with hemorrhoids look like.”

Piles belong to the yoof

In fact only one company showed an image that was in any way accurately representative of the reality of hemorrhoids. 

The reality of piles

So to go back to the original question: how do you sell something embarrassing to people who wish they didn’t have to buy it.

It appears that the most effective way is to completely ignore the discomfort, the embarrassment and image issues. And instead focus on providing well presented options in time honoured tradition.

well-presented options for piles

I find this interesting, as many examples of medical marketing focus primarily on the emotions and “pains”, while the product itself is little more than an afterthought of a solution.

Most pain medication advertising, for example, focuses almost entirely on the pain, with the product (the pill) a springboard to being able to continue your day dancing and jumping around without your migraine getting in the way.

Preparation H, on the other hand, chooses instead to give factual and clear solutions. There’s no hint of pain or embarrassment, just lots of information and options.

In a bizarrely similar target audience demographic, expensive cars aren’t usually marketed as solutions to ego problems and/or mid-life crises.

Yet some of these companies have similar problems when representing their customers. The classic 55 year old thinking about buying a convertible sports car doesn’t want to think of himself as 55. So the grey-haired clean-cut guy with reading glasses, a hearing aid and a sweater draped over his shoulders may put him off.

But he also doesn’t want enough of a reality-slap from a stubble-glazed 25 year old driver shattering his self image.

He’s not buying a car; he’s buying an image he has of himself.

And Preparation H aren’t selling soothing ointments and suppositories; they’re selling a life without discomfort.

Who knew that haemorrhoids and expensive cars had so much in common?

When it comes to your own product or service, what are you selling, and how does this compare with what your customers are actually buying?

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