The Ex-Lax equation

Putting a fresh, contemporary face on a mature brand is always a challenge but even more so when the brand happens to be Ex-Lax and the category a decidedly unsexy OTC sector: stimulant laxatives.

Putting a fresh, contemporary face on a mature brand is always a challenge but even more so when the brand happens to be Ex-Lax and the category a decidedly unsexy OTC sector: stimulant laxatives.

Tobi Swanwick, brand manager at Mississauga, Ont.-based Novartis Consumer Health Canada, says as a mature brand, and one that is almost synonymous with the category, the goal of Ex-Lax advertising is to maintain awareness and usage.

The core target is and always has been women 35-plus, says Swanwick, but it was time for a different creative strategy to reach them. Previous work showed contented-looking women along with the themeline, ‘All mornings should be this good.’

She says constipation is still a topic nobody really wants to talk about, so the trick was to initiate a light and direct creative approach without slipping into bathroom humour.

Armed with the simple brief – Ex-Lax equals laxative – Grey Worldwide creative team Sam Cerullo and Matt Bielby took the idea literally and even managed to give the product the starring role in the ‘Equations’ magazine campaign.

‘We wanted to do a campaign with a contemporary, modern feel that was simple and to the point,’ says Cerullo. ‘Everybody knows what Ex-Lax is and the benefits of it. We don’t need to explain it.’

The original Ex-Lax, the chocolate pieces, is still popular but it is the tablet version, available in regular and extra-strength, that is the hero of each ad.

The baby blue pill takes the place of a logo in a series of executions that are short on copy and tell the story simply and visually. The pill is placed in various roles: bracketed between pause and play buttons, or between a sad and a happy face. ‘For relief of occasional constipation’ is in small print at the bottom of the page.

Although Ex-Lax is the best-known brand in the category, it is the number two brand behind Senekot from Connecticut-based Purdue Pharma L.P., a product that bypasses consumer advertising to make its pitches directly to physicians.

The campaign launched mid-month and will be refreshed with new executions throughout the year. It is slated to appear in women’s publications such as Canadian Living, Chatelaine, and Today’s Parent.

Client: Novartis Consumer Health Canada

Agency: Grey Worldwide

Creative Director: Marc Stoiber

Copywriters: Matt Bielby, Sam Cerullo

Art Directors: Sam Cerullo, Matt Bielby

Photographer: Shin Sugino