Right on target…

Recognised by 9 out of 10 consumers, Nurofen’s target symbol is the most powerful on the healthcare fixture.

Recognised by 9 out of 10 consumers, Nurofen’s target symbol is the most powerful on the healthcare fixture.


Last night I had a headache and reached for the Nurofen.

Nurofen .jpg

I didn’t think about it, it was an automatic response. I do it all the time, not thinking about things too much but simply reacting, and you probably do too. This was an example of me using my System 1 brain - the subconscious part that enables me to do repetitive, habitual behaviours without having to put effort into conscious thinking.

We all use System 1 thinking, without it we wouldn’t be able to drive a car, ride a bike, kick a football, play a musical instrument or buy our favourite brand of baked beans in the supermarket. Most us don’t want to think rationally or deeply about repetitive tasks – it takes too much effort. System 1 thinking is hugely beneficial in saving time and effort.

 But let’s look at this another way. What did Nurofen do to enable me to use my system 1 brain? This is something that Nurofen does incredibly well, and has done since its launch in the early 80s; the brand has two crucial qualities that enabled my System 1 decision-making to work:

 It was both physically and mentally available

If Nurofen hadn’t been in the cupboard I would have chosen something else - probably Anadin which is my wife’s choice of analgesic. There’s no doubt, I would have been happy to switch to Anadin. No brand loyalty there then! But Nurofen was there - it was physically available.

Consistent use of the target in advertising embeds the brand in our System 1 brand.

Consistent use of the target in advertising embeds the brand in our System 1 brand.

In terms of ‘mental availability’, Nurofen was well and truly embedded in my brain. This is partly due to 30 years of exposure to Nurofen’s brand advertising, but it’s also because of the design of Nurofen’s powerful brand language. When these factors are combined with my experience of the brand’s effectiveness, pain triggers both a mental and physical response, enabling me to select Nurofen without involving any rational thought.

 Here I have something to admit. I worked as designer for Nurofen’s branding and packaging from the early 80s to the mid 90s, redesigning the brand’s packaging twice. I also had three bouts of researching the visual language of Nurofen and its category for Reckitt Benckiser after they bought the brand from Boots in the early 2000s. One could argue that therefore I’m not a typical consumer. But whilst I may have some bias, I do have well-researched insights into why the design of Nurofen is so successful in embedding its brand language in, not only my brain, but also the System 1 brains of consumers. So here are a few insights:


Recognition: The design of Nurofen’s Primary Brand Asset is so powerful that it triggers instant recognition amongst both existing users and other oral analgesic consumers. Nurofen’s strength in this regard is one of the likely reasons why it is still the number one brand and sells at more than six times the price of own label ibuprofen in the UK! It underlines the principle that recognition is determined by the extent to which the brand asset is differentiated, and the extent to which brand asset exposure has built the association with the brand in the brains of consumers. In Nurofen’s case this has been achieved by consistent visual management of its primary brand asset – the target device - through redesign after redesign, and using it as the central visual focus in all of its advertising over the last 30 years. It’s embedded in our System 1 brains.

Meaning B:W.jpg

Expression: Nurofen has also been very powerful in expressing meaning implicitly and explicitly through the visual language of its packaging. All brands need to consider the visual mechanics of expression. In other words, "How does my brand talk to consumers' motivations?" Nurofen is a brand that has managed this extremely effectively over the years. Other brands have borrowed meaning from Nurofen; when the patent expired on the product, other own ibuprofen brands launched in silver packs. Nurofen responded by bringing in other features and aspects into the pack design to add more differentiated meaning. The impact of that can be seen in today’s packaging. The brand has managed and evolved their brand assets to meet the changing needs of consumers but has used System 1 type brand language research to ensure they protect and retain those assets that work.


Connection: Nurofen has also focused on building the meaning of the target asset through its advertising. Recognition of the target asset now triggers the implicit meaning of targeted pain relief, as well as the idea of pain quickly dissipated. The brand is very powerful in communicating relevant meaning in purchasing situations to both existing and potential brand purchasers. In fact, very little else is really needed by the brand in terms of creating highly effective forms of communication in a buying or usage situation; it says all you need it to say on an implicit level. Nurofen has used its brand language assets extremely well over the last 30 or more years to effectively embed itself in our System 1 brains.


Nurofen has achieved this status in the market by investing in System 1 Brand Language research, understanding how their brand language works implicitly and explicitly, and ensuring - as the brand evolves and extends – that it maintains its ability to be recognised, express relevant meaning and connect with consumers.

 So the next time I have a headache or back pain, I’ll be reaching for my pack of Nurofen. A great many people do the same.


Starting as a designer, Rob became curious about why certain designs worked better than others in the real world. It was from here, in conjunction with academia, that Rob started to develop early versions of our research methodology in 2004. Now Genesis Brand Language Decoder™ is a means to unlocking brand language opportunities for brands to exploit for commercial gain. Rob has used insight from our research approaches to drive strategic design for many successful global brands. 

For more on how we can help you identify and develop your brands assets for competitive advantage mail rob9barker@gmail.com or ring  01233 811636.