HeadOn: An Annoying Ad that Works
By Tom Ryan
Described as repetitive, amateurish and intentionally obnoxious, the commercials for HeadOn also apparently work. Sales for the homeopathic migraine headache remedy catapulted 234 percent from 2005 to 2006 and are rising more two-fold so far this year.
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The 15-second spot shows a woman rubbing what appears to be a glue stick across her forehead. A bright yellow arrow points to the application area, and an announcer hypnotically repeats three times: “HeadOn. Apply directly to the forehead.” The announcer then says it’s a non-prescription product available at retail stores. The ad provides no more details about what HeadOn actually does.
Since their June 2006 launch, the spots have become a pop culture phenomenon. Advertising Age called HeadOn the most “cheesy” commercial to capture the public’s imagination since the “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up” from LifeCall. On “The Tonight Show,” Jay Leno has spoofed the commercial three times (i.e., “Big Mac: Apply directly to your ass.”), and “Saturday Night Live” and “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart” have also referenced it. Numerous parodies are scattered across YouTube.
“Part of the charm is that it is so crude,” Dina Mayzlin, assistant professor of marketing at Yale School of Management, told USA Today last year. “The ad stands out in its repetitiveness. It’s intriguing and breaks through the clutter.”
Dan Charron, VP-sales and marketing at Miralus Healthcare, the marketer of HeadOn, recently told AdAge the commercials, which are done in-house, are intentionally repetitive and amateurish.
“We’re just trying to build a brand by getting people to remember it,” said Mr. Charron
In coming up with the campaign, Mr. Charron tested some commercials typical of health and beauty campaigns, such as an actor holding the product up and discussing its benefits. Again and again, however, the repetitive campaign had much better recall with focus groups than standard ads.
“Our No. 1 priority is recall,” said Mr. Charron.
HeadOn also purposely tested the ads against mainstream commercials rather than just other headache remedies.
“Odds are, 99 percent of the time, our ad won’t be next to a headache remedy anyway but a car ad or electronics ad or food ad,” he said.
Sales of HeadOn reached $6.5 million last year excluding Wal-Mart, according to Information Resources Inc. Although ad agencies are calling, HeadOn plans to continue to create the ads in-house for fear of losing its unique approach.
“If a focus group tells us something is not going to work, we discard it. There’s no conflict of interest this way,” Mr. Charron told AdAge. “We don’t care about winning creative awards.”
Discussion Questions: Why do you think the HeadOn commercials are so effective? Can many other brands apply similar techniques? What lessons can be learned from HeadOn on how brands can break through the ad clutter?
- This Ad Will Give You a Headache, but It Sells – Advertising Age (Subscription required)
- Headache commercial hits parody circuit, well, HeadOn – USA Today
- HeadOn Commercial – YouTube