Did you consume Dolo 650 during the Covid-19 illness? You and I, and many others, have done that.
Data shows that India sold more than 350 crore tablets of the anti-fever medicine since the outbreak of Covid-19 in 2020.
Pushed by fever, one of the most common symptoms of Covid-19, the sales of this oval-shaped white pill has doubled in the last two years while paracetamol tablets are the most consumed medicines for cold and fever.
If we stack together all 350 crore tablets vertically, it’s about 6,000 times as tall as Mount Everest — the world’s highest mountain – or about 63,000 times as tall as Burj Khalifa — the world’s tallest building.
Yes, it’s true. Dolo, a 1.5 cm-long pill, was sold much more than the go-to paracetamol tablet, Crocin, in the last two years.
Sample this: According to the data by the research firm IQVIA, India sold about 7.5 crore strips of Dolo tablets before the outbreak of Covid-19 in 2019.
The annual sales of the medicine moved to 9.4 crore strips – with 15 tablets in one strip – or 141 crore tablets. It spiked further to 14.5 crore strips – twice the sales in 2019 – or 217 crore tablets by November 2021.
It is to be noted that the first wave of Covid-19 arrived in India around September 2020, whereas the ferocious second wave, which saw most deaths, hit India in May 2021. Overall, India has recorded more than 3.5 crore cases. Hence, more than 350 crore tablets of Dolo were sold in both the pandemic years.
Today, Dolo is the second most sold anti-fever and analgesic tablet in India with a turnover of Rs 307 crore in 2021 whereas GSK’s Calpol is just a notch above it with turnover of Rs 310 crore. Crocin is the sixth largest in the category with double-digit sales of Rs 23.6 crore.
Overall, in non-Covid year 2019, the sales of all brands under the paracetamol category stood around Rs 530 crore. Category sales zoomed by 70% and by 2021, they have touched Rs 924 crore.
People are not just buying Dolo, they are googling it, too.
Since the outbreak of Covid-19 in January 2020, ‘Dolo 650’ was most searched keyword on Google with around 2 lakh searches while ‘Calpol 650’ was looked for around 40,000 times. The search volume for the keyword peaked during the second wave.
Dolo’s Entry and Claim to Fame
Paracetamol, a generic salt, which is a common painkiller used to treat aches and reduce high temperature, has been in the market since the 1960s.
Crocin or Dolo or Calpol – these are different brand names given by pharma companies selling the same salt, paracetamol, under their copyright brand name.
I was curious to find the reason behind Dolo’s success, thanks to the memes flooded on the social media platforms claiming that every Indian is popping Dolo, right now. These hilarious memes claim Dolo is a one-stop solution for everything — be it fever, body ache, Covid-19, headache or toothache.
My first call to an industry veteran made me learn that Dolo’s fame is not new-found. “In fact, in 2010, Dolo 650 was awarded as the best managed brand of the year, subsequently, it was recognised as India’s most admired brand followed by several other recognitions,” a veteran representing a lobby of pharma companies in India told me.
Dr SP Kalantri, Professor of Medicine, Mahatma Gandhi Institute of Medical Sciences, Maharashtra, believes it could be a mix of everything, including good luck, behind Dolo’s fame. He told me that this “workhorse painkiller” merely comforts the patients when their distress level is high.
What made it catch the fancy of public and physicians? I asked. “Is it plain luck, mere happenstance, clever marketing, social media, or perceived need of the people during Covid times? It is difficult to assess which of the assumptions explain its sudden popularity. All paracetamols are alike — their task is to ease pain and bring down fever,” he said.
What Made Dolo Popular?
The first reason shared by doctors, brand experts and industry veterans is it’s short and crisp brand name. It’s simpler than other brands such as Pyrigesic, Pacimol, Fepanil and Paracip.
Another reason is the company’s entry into the 650 milligram (MG) category and perception that it’s more effective on fever due unknown illnesses.
Founded in 1973, Bengaluru-based Micro labs — maker of brand Dolo — sensed the opportunity and relaunched the product emphasising that it contained 650 mg of paracetamol, while the rest had 500 mg.
The medicine became popular as “Dolo-650”.
Brand experts and industry veterans told me that the company encashed on clinical evidence that 650 mg gave superior pain relief than 500 mg.
The pharma brand specialist, Vivek Hattangadi, recalled that Micro Labs also initiated a series of Continuing Medical Education (CME) programmes for doctors on ‘Pyrexia of unknown origin’ under the Micro Knowledge Academy.
“Although the medical term used for fever is pyrexia, prescription data analysis showed that doctors preferred to use the term ‘FUO’ or ‘Fever of Unknown Origin’,” he said, quoting his mentor professor, Chitta Mitra, who is also known as the father of pharma brand management.
He believes that MicroLabs’s strategy of using this term ‘FUO’ in their brand promotion played a key role in increasing prescription.
“The brand became synonymous with fever due to unknown reasons. Any fever and doctor will prescribe Dolo-650.”
Hattangadi’s analogy proved correct.
In an interview to The CEO Magazine, Dilip Surana, managing director, Micro Labs, confessed that the company identified a space between normal fever and high fever.
“There are many cases wherein fever of unknown origin is being observed with a high fever. There we started promoting Dolo-650 to doctors. The concept of high fever was well appreciated by doctors to a quantum spurt in prescriptions of Dolo-650,” he was quoted saying in one of the rare interviews published in January, 2021.
Surana also said the batch size of Dolo production has increased by 25 times.
Crocin Opened Bigger Market for Dolo
Hattangadi shared that Crocin was the first brand to be launched under the paracetamol category.
The man behind Crocin was late GM Masurkar, the head of sales and promotion team of drug maker Crookes Interfran, which was later named as Duphar Interfran and then became Solvay.
The company, in the late 1990s, sold its popular analgesic brand Crocin to Smithkline Beecham Pharmaceuticals, which was later merged with Glaxo Wellcome – known today as GSK (GlaxoSmithkline).
“Glaxo already had Calpol, but it was a weak brand as compared to Crocin. While Crocin was made an OTC brand and Calpol remained a prescription brand,” Hattangadi said.
This changed the perception of Crocin.
“When a drug becomes an OTC, doctors are less likely to prescribe it,” a general physician, with four decades of experience, told me over a call during a frank conversation about Dolo.
OTC means that you need not consult a doctor or take prescription to buy the medicine. “Crocin di hai… Yeh tou main khud hi le leta, fees waste ho gayi. This is how a patient’s psychology works. Hence, doctors started avoiding prescribing Crocin,” he said.
Once doctor prescribes a particular brand, its reputation grows stronger in front of the patient and his family members. They start buying the same from the next time onwards.
By the way, if too many memes on Dolo are giving a headache, you know what to do next.