What’s in a Name?


Excedrin Migraine


Excedrin Extra Strength

Images via Excedrin website


On a recent trip to Wal-Mart, I noticed that Excedrin sells an “Extra Strength” capsule, and a “Migraine” capsule. As a migraine sufferer, I was interested to know the difference between the two. Turns out, the only difference is the packaging! The price is the same, the ingredients are the same, and the amount of active ingredients are the same. The products are identical, with the exception of the name on the front of the package. I thought this was odd, but on further reflection, I’ve come up with a few reasons it might make sense.

Superiority complex. As a migraine sufferer, I know the difference between a little ‘ole headache and a full-blown migraine, and there’s no convincing me that a regular pain killer is going to have any effect on my migraines. Thus, when I need migraine medicine, I need MIGRAINE medicine. During my last migraine, I didn’t have prescription pills on-hand, so I told my husband to go to the store and pick-up something specifically for migraines. This means I don’t want “extra strength”, I don’t want “headache”, and I don’t want “generic pain killer”…. I want “migraine”. So, if Excedrin has a pill that specifically says, “migraine”, it will win out over Tylenol’s “extra strength” or Bayer’s aspirin. The reality is that the active ingredients and doses are identical, but something about seeing the name “migraine” tells me that this pill is superior because my migraines are more intense than a headache.

Proxy for efficiency. Most pain meds will put a picture and a small description to help the afflicted quickly determine whether the pill is right for their needs. There’s pills for back and neck pain, headaches, muscle cramps, and any other variety of physical ailment. If you read the labels, most pills use exactly the same ingredients and doses. However, when you’re in pain, you want to make your decision about which brand to buy as quickly as possible. The names on the packages act as a proxy for efficiency, allowing you to grab “back and neck pain” instead of figuring out whether the generic pain med is applicable to your situation.

Perception of variety. By using different names on the packages, brands give the illusion of variety of choice. Thus, when you feel like you need a specific type of pill for a specific type of pain, you feel comfortable choosing a box from a brand that meets your need specifically. If I’ve got a migraine, I can use Excedrin migraine. If I’ve got a “bad” headache, I can use Excedrin extra strength. If I’ve got a “regular” headache, I can use the standard Excedrin. The doses may vary slightly between “regular’ and “extra strength”, but I’m more inclined to buy one of each type to have on-hand when my specific need arises. This perception of variety makes me buy “different” products to meet my needs, and keeps me coming back because I feel like the brand has exactly the right pill for me.

With identical prices, it makes sense for Excedrin to put different names on their products, even though the active ingredients and doses are identical. This variety helps the customer feel like their specific need is met, instead of lumping all pain-related issues into one category. Sometimes I wonder if the placebo effect comes into play, as I feel much more relieved to take “migraine” medicine vs. “regular” headache medicine. It seems like Excedrin came up with a pretty good strategy for selling more pain meds!

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