PHOENIX, AZ: Zyrtec, the over-the-counter allergy medication, has successfully demonstrated how conducting research among users of rival products can help challenger brands close the gap on a market leader.

Colleen Sellers, group brand director/allergy and eye care at McNeil Consumer Healthcare, the parent of Zyrtec, discussed this topic at the Association of National Advertisers' (ANA) 2015 Brand Masters Conference.

And she told the event audience that the product typically relieved allergies faster than competing lines, but its claims in this area were not making the required impact on potential buyers.

This resulted, she continued, in the need to cut through with people who generally opted to purchase Claritin – the top offering in the segment – when they were at the shelf-edge.

"We had to figure out how to get Claritin users to listen to us," said Sellers. (For more, including other challenger strategies used by the brand, read Warc's exclusive report: How challenger brand Zyrtec is breaking the rules.)

These consumers, Zyrtec's research revealed, presented the "best volume opportunity" to drive increased sales and challenge the category leader.

Joining Sellers on the conference stage was Cathy Clift, executive planning director at JWT New York, the agency which worked with Zyrtec on this effort. And she laid out the main goal of the Claritin-focused research.

"We needed to do a deep dive into [Claritin's] world," said Clift, "and really understand what their perspective on this world of allergies was."

In pursuit of this aim, the organisation looked to understand the Claritin customers in the greatest need of support from their medication.

"What we did is: we recruited heavy allergy sufferers," Clift said. "And by 'heavy', I mean these are people who are suffering anywhere from three to 12 months a year.

"We talked to them about everything that was important in their lives. We talked to them about how their allergies impacted what's important to them, how they felt when they treated their allergies, what their allergies felt like before, and then what they felt like after they'd taken their medication."

The payoffs from this process were very powerful, from identifying a target cohort of "Claritin Complacents" to learning about advertising conventions that did not play well – helping Zyrtec gain ground on its rival.

Data sourced from Warc