What happens when a traditional category meets an unconventional challenger?

We’re on the eve of an epic marketing battle between an unconventional newcomer and a venerable category. I’m talking about the coming Pain Wars.

So how will the legacy pain and sleep aid business react to a threat that’s coming from far outside their traditional category arena? It’s a perfect example of what the defense strategy wonks call asymmetrical warfare.

There’s no doubt that the CBD category is on a tear—estimates range from anywhere from $2 billion to upwards of $20 billion by 2024. Regardless of the scenario, there’s no doubt that billions in consumer spending will come directly from the OTC pain relief and sleep segments.

Nielsen shows the legacy OTC pain and sleep aid segments generated $5.6 Billion in sales in 2018 (more than a quarter of Americans use OTC pain relief on a constant basis). It’s a category driven by some of the most enduring brands in history; brands that have been locked in a pitched share battle for the last half century.

So is this the dawn of the Pain Wars? A category on category battle royale for our well-being and a good night’s sleep.

I wonder how very traditional consumer product marketers are going to react to incursions into their business from brands the likes of Casper ( offering a hemp-based gummy), former NFL player Rob Gronkowski, and a line-up of cannabis-based brands from California and Colorado? How will brands like Alleve and Tylenol PM actively defend their consumer and retail business.

While much has been written about challenger brands, there’s very little in the strategic vernacular about how legacy brands should respond to being the target of outside challengers. We know that the “pretend everything is fine and maybe they’ll go away” approach isn’t a good idea: the luxury automotive category gave up 720,000 unit sales to a start-up called Tesla and the Mattress category ceded more than a billion dollars to Casper.

The outcome of the pain wars is going to be determined by the next steps both challengers and legacy business are going to take. Who are you betting on?