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The Debate Headache

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To achieve its mission of making Excedrin synonymous with headaches, PHD started looking for opportunities where it could link metaphorical headaches to Excedrin. It called them “headache moments” and they were fairly easy to find: morning commutes, air travel, holiday shopping were obvious choices. And PHD built a successful campaign around these moments. 

But, during last year’s US Election it found a compelling insight that would drive the most effective campaign to date: through social listening it found a spike in metaphorical headaches related to the US presidential primary debates. Excedrin substantiated this insight by commissioning a survey that found nearly seven out of 10 Americans believed the 2016 US presidential election caused more headaches than any other election year. 

Through research and insight Excedrin identified the US presidential debates as a truly headache-inducing moment. PHD called it #DebateHeadache. 


When two of the most unlikable candidates in US Presidential Election history, Donald Trump and Hilary Clinton prepared to face off in the final debate, the agency saw its chance to capture a moment in culture and make Excedrin synonymous with common headaches. 

PHD's strategy was to find a way to bring Excedrin into the debate conversation without being intrusive. So, it decided to reflect the mood of a frustrated and annoyed nation through funny, cheeky (and perfectly relevant) messages about how aggravating the debate was and how Excedrin was the only way to deal with it.  

Sensing the mood of the nation was going to worsen through the debate, the multi-discipline Excedrin team quickly rallied to work out a way to make a big impact while the candidates squared off for the last time. It would be a one-day power play to put Excedrin front and centre in the midst of a contentious but memorable day.  


The agency scoured the media landscape and found its big opportunity with Twitter. Not only was it the go to channel for live events, it was also used heavily by at least one presidential candidate. 

Twitter had an exclusive Promoted Trend available on October 19th the day of the final debate. But PHD would need to commit within 24 hours. At the time, it had no creative assets or a fleshed out idea.  But it knew this could be a big opportunity. So the agency rallied the team: brand marketers, media, PR, creative, and together decided to go for it. 

First, it aligned on the tag #DebateHeadache. Next, it created and pushed out bespoke creative throughout the day. It also responded to tweets and retweets in real time. PHD set up a war-room on October 19 staffed with brand marketers, media buyers, creatives and even legal counsel to keep it on track. Messaging ground rules were simple: non-partisan banter, cheeky but inoffensive humour, and of course get headache relief from Excedrin, anytime. 

Throughout the day PHD pushed out light hearted messages mocking the debate and highlighting Excedrin. The campaign caught on quickly with people engaging and retweeting #DebateHeadache.  Major media outlets picked up the campaign and by mid-morning it was on CNN Money, Wall Street Journal and others. The next night it was on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert where he reminded everyone that the winner of the debate was Excedrin! 


Business results were outstanding. In 10-14 the days following the Twitter activation, Excedrin market share jumped by 20%. 

The mission of making Excedrin synonymous with headache paid off in how the brand became a part of the social lexicon.   

• There were over 100,000 engagements with @Excedrin tweets and over 80,000 mentions of #DebateHeadache during the debate.  

• #DebateHeadache delivered 316 million impressions – 3x as many impressions the average Super Bowl ad, for less than 5% of the advertising cost.   

• 400 earned media placements (350MM+ impressions) in the most-read, most-watched, most-influential media including the New York Times, The Late Show with Stephen Colbert and even Saturday Night Live – often cited as the ultimate validation of pop culture presence. CNN named Excedrin the “Debate Winner before it even began.” 

• The cleverness and simplicity of the campaign got noticed: social media went nuts, with a 30x increase in brand chatter. 

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Brand Owner:
United States
October - October 2016
Media Channel:

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