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Most Embarrassing Products: Dr. Scholl's Freeze Away


It's hard to make warts cute, but companies keep trying.

Lurking on the damp floors of public showers and on the hands of coworkers is a virus responsible for a common, yet dreaded skin condition: the wart.

The virus that causes the common and plantar wart is the human papillomavirus or HPV. It is most commonly transferred when wet or moist surfaces come in contact with a cut or scratch on the skin. Although warts are far from life-threatening and relatively easy to treat, the afflicted are often sheepish when having to deal with the problem.

Everyone's favorite comfy shoemaker Dr. Scholl's (MRK) is one of the many brands that treats common and plantar warts with their Dr.Scholl's Freeze Away and Clear Away lines. Dr. William Mathias Scholl started his career as a podiatrist in 1904, then founded his company two years later in Chicago. In time, the ever-expanding foot-care empire moved into the wart removal market, first with Dr. Scholl's Clear Away, which uses the traditional treatment of salicylic acid. The company later added Freeze Away, with the active ingredients dimethyl ether and propane. (At the doctor's office, warts are typically treated with liquid nitrogen.) A Dr. Scholl's spokeswoman said their products hold the majority of the market share.

But even using a salt of the earth brand can't completely take the sting out of the experience of buying the product.The current ad campaign by Dr. Scholl's Freeze Away uses humor to turn the touchy subject of warts on its head, supposedly making it easier for a shopper to buy the product without shame. The star of commercial is an animated, talking wart with shifty eyebrows. He has made a home on the finger of an annoyed woman.

Meanwhile, Dr. Scholl's top competitor Compound W (PBH) also attempts to address the target head-on with the slogan: "The Wart Stop's Here." With a 32.9% market share, Compound W is the number two wart removal brand in the United States, according to the annual report of their parent company Prestige Brands Holdings. Like Dr. Scholl's, Compound W advertising tries to take the disgust factor out of the equation. A recent commercial features a series of smiling, peppy people shaking, slapping, and holding hands, then flashing a "W" with their fingers to the camera. Both Compound W and Dr. Scholl's use illustrations to animate a product demo; no one wants to see a close-up of an actual wart on their TV.

The only serious downside to freezing treatments is the hefty price tag. Dr. Scholl's Freeze Away runs about $10 more than Clear Away. But the upside is that you only need one dose, significantly lowering the day-to-day embarrassment factor.

No positions in stocks mentioned.

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