Crocin’s doctor deception

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As far as I recall, GSK’s Crocin first released an ad featuring ‘Mr. Sachin Khurana’ early in 2022.

The pitch in that ad was that Crocin starts working in 5 minutes.

‘Mr. Sachin Khurana’ is seen wearing a ‘white coat’, pointing to a strip of Crocin.

How do we know the name of the model in the ad? Because the ad names him explicitly.

How many ads name the model inside the ad itself? None!

Then, in September, another Crocin ad with ‘Mr. Sachin Khurana’ mentioned again.

The pitch now is that Crocin is a trusted brand for years.

Why this reiteration on ‘trust’, now? I presume it is on the back of another hugely popular paracetamol brand being in news for all the wrong reasons: Dolo 650.

Dolo 650 seemed to be the default paracetamol during the pandemic, as a follow-up to the vaccine injection, and as the paracetamol most cited/prescribed during the viral flu itself. In a way, ‘Dolo’ had become a verb for paracetamol.

On an unrelated note, my personal ‘favorite’ paracetamol happens to be Oxalgin. Next preference is Metacin. But during my bout of COVID’ish illness in 2021, I took Dolo 650 on the doctor’s recommendation!

The makers of Dolo 650 are under the lens of the I-T department that conducted searches in the offices of Bengaluru-based Micro Labs Ltd. for alleged tax evasion.

Then, the Central Board of Direct Taxes (CBDT) accused Dolo-650 makers of indulging in “unethical practices” and distributing freebies worth about ?1,000 crores to doctors and medical professionals in exchange for promoting its products.

Given all this bad news for the most famous paracetamol in the Indian market, it is understandable that GSK wants to reiterate the ‘trust* around its own Crocin. It’s astute business strategy too, though one can argue the ethics of such a move too.

But recently, the Indian Pharmaceutical Alliance (IPA) had cleared Micro Labs, maker of Dolo 650, of the charge that it bribed medical doctors with freebies worth Rs 1000 crores in one year to promote its paracetamol.

But this post is not about the Crocin vs. Dolo battle.

It’s about ‘Mr. Sachin Khurana’ 🙂

Considering no ad names its models inside the ad, do ask why the Crocin ad names him.

A related question would be, ‘Why Mr.?’. If he is a doctor, shouldn’t that be ‘Dr.’?

But doctors are not allowed to promote brands in India.

Dr. Shriram Lagoo, an ENT surgeon, and a very well-known actor, was famously deregistered from the Indian Medical Association’s medical register after he endorsed Dabur’s Chyavanprash.

So, it’s fairly obvious that ‘Dr. Sachin Khuana’ cannot endorse Crocin in GSK’s ad campaign.

Is that why he is addressed as ‘Mr.’?

Hardly. A more pertinent question is why he is named at all.

The answer, in my view, is that GSK wants the credibility of a doctor’s endorsement. This is apparent if you notice the white coat Sachin is wearing.

But, given the constraints of using doctors to endorse products, GSK and its agency found a nice and convenient loophole that can be used to dissuade governing bodies like IMA or ASCI from assuming that a doctor is endorsing something.

So, loophole number 1: “That could be a pharmacist or a chemist too. They wear the white coat too, you know… and they are clearly not doctors!

Loophole number 2: “See, he is clearly not a doctor, despite what you may come to assume based on the white coat. We made it very clear by calling his title as Mr.

This is very, very sneaky and clever.

On a quick glance, most people may not even notice ‘Mr. Sachin Khurana’, the name tag. Why? Because no ad names the model. Plus, it’s the smallest element in the ad besides the fine print.

But, on the same quick glance, people would most definitely notice a dignified-looking man wearing a white coat. And a white coat is more clearly identified with doctors than pharmacists.

What Crocin ends up gaining is the illusion that a doctor is endorsing the product and talking about how trusted it is.

‘Most trusted by doctors’ or ‘Most recommended by doctors’ or even ‘Most used by doctors’ are coveted endorsements in pharma advertising. Many brands use that phrase precisely because they cannot name individual doctors.

For those who do notice ‘Mr. Sachin Khurana’, there is a nice bonanza waiting for them when they Google the name.

Mr. Sachin Khurana is not a doctor, and not a pharmacist either. He’s a model-turned-actor!

So why is he wearing a white coat at all in Crocin’s ad and being named specifically?

Because this is the grey area that GSK and Crocin want to exploit. It’s not very different from Policybazaar using actor Akshay Kumar in a white coat playing a doctor. Or Neena Gupta playing a doctor in GSK’s 3-in-one vaccine ad.

But in case of Akshay or Neena, most people can instantly recognize them and clearly demarcate in their heads the scripted parts of the ad (known actor merely playing a doctor) and the actual facts the ad purports to communicate (Policybazaar is good; GSK’s vaccine is useful).

In case of the Crocin ad, given that Sachin is not as popular as Akshay or Neena, he could easily pass off as an actual doctor, thanks to the white coat.

Until people notice the name ‘Mr. Sachin Khurana’.
Until people wonder why it’s a ‘Mr.’ and not ‘Dr.’.
Until people Google ‘Sachin Khurana’.

Most consumers of advertising do not bother with even a single ‘until’, leave alone all three 🙂