Why Help Remedies Expects Failure, Sometimes

Three Questions with Healthcare Marketer and Ad Age CMO Strategy Summit Speaker Richard Fine

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Help Remedies CEO Richard Fine is the first to admit that most of his marketing efforts don't have much impact. But the ones that do -- such as the Help, I Want to Save a Life program that won a Grand Prix for Good for Droga5 at the International Advertising Festival in Cannes this year -- can have a big impact.

Richard Fine
Richard Fine
The company has a unique proposition in the health-care space -- simplicity. Mr. Fine says the company focuses on using single ingredients, with no extra coatings, dyes or fillers. At the moment, Help Remedies boasts 10 products, including everything from sleep remedies to nausea treatments. "If you value clarity and knowing what you're getting, we want to be available to you across all of those 10 conditions," Mr. Fine said.

At the CMO Strategy Summit on July 18 in Chicago, Mr. Fine, along with his partner Nathan Frank, will talk about what they've learned from failure and how avoiding the boring, safe things has led to unique ideas, creative packaging and, ultimately, success. Here Mr. Fine, who was a strategic director and partner at new-product consultancy Redscout before Help Remedies, talks about what makes his quirky company and its marketing work.

Ad Age : Is it inevitable in the evolution of categories that everything gets increasingly complicated, then someone stakes out a niche with simplicity?

Mr. Fine: Having been on the other side of the table, I think there are dynamics that drive things toward more complexity over time. Walmart says to you every year, what are your new SKUs? So people create dancing-on-the-head-of -a-needle variations of what they already do.

Ad Age : What works best in marketing at Help?

Mr. Fine: We have very few dollars but try to punch above our weight. We do that by doing activities that are unusual enough that they drive secondary impressions either in the press or among consumers. We structure our activities so that we can honestly say to ourselves that if we were journalists we would honestly want to write about this, or if I were a consumer I would tell someone about this. [If we can't say that ] then it's literally not worth our dollars.

When you do that , you have to build in the idea that some of those things aren't going to work. We've done 10 activities this year. Two of them have taken off and been very successful and driven a lot of press. Six of them have been very quiet and have not done so much. ... If you want to go with this model, you have to build in the expectation that sometimes things aren't going to take off that way.

Ad Age : What was one of the successful ones?

Mr. Fine: We did a partnership where we put within our packages along with our bandage product a bone-marrow testing kit that allowed you to, if you'd cut yourself, put some blood on a swab and send it off to the Bone Marrow Registry, which a lot of people want to be on but haven't done because it's a hassle. That idea just totally caught fire and ended up on CNN, ABC News, a lot of other things.

Another one we did was with a site called CuteOverload, which I didn't know of , but is the world's largest "cute" website. For Help I'm Nauseous, a new launch for us, we did a competition around "so cute it makes me sick," which is people sending in pictures of their cute animals. We got thousands of entries. We're very big in the design world, but people into cute stuff probably hadn't heard much about us. We touched a few million people in that world in an interesting way.

We're doing this thing right now called What's Wrong America? It allows you to see on our website based on our sales what people are suffering from. I thought this was brilliant, so funny, so clever. But I've been very underwhelmed.

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