“Laughter is the best medicine,” so the old saying goes. 

Though Abreva’s latest campaign, “Confident B#@%! with a Cold Sore,” may not cure cold sores, its edgy humor delivered by fashion designer and Real Housewives of New York star Leah McSweeney aims to dispel some of the stigmas around them. 

According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, an estimated 50% to 80% of Americans have oral herpes, and around 20% of that group develop cold sores. It is a common disease by any measure, but it can still be embarrassing for people experiencing their first outbreak. This is where Abreva sees an opportunity to support and uplift consumers.

“Our campaign is going after that first-time or newer sufferer who might not be sure what’s happening,” says Kavita Ramachandran, brand manager at Haleon. “That tends to skew younger; you’re more likely to be a teenager when you’re getting a cold sore for the first time. The campaign is helping them figure out how to navigate it.”

The campaign features three Instagram videos from McSweeney, being posted on her account on October 6, 11 and 19. All three are themed around how to go through different activities with a cold sore, beginning with “How to Take a Selfie with a Cold Sore.” (The second and third cover how to go to the gym and how to self-care.)

In addition to her sense of humor, focus on wellness, and her more than 529,000 followers on Instagram, Ramachandran says that McSweeney’s no-apologies embrace of her own cold-sore outbreaks made her an ideal partner for the Abreva initiative. 

“We felt like people could relate to her and they could see somebody that they knew being out and proud of their cold sore,” she says. “That might help them feel a little bit more confident in their own skin as well.”

Abreva has been available for more than 20 years and “Confident B#@%! with a Cold Sore” joins a long history of the company’s consumer-facing campaigns. Ramachandran also sees the current one as reflective of an evolution in the brand’s messaging. 

“We’ve been pivoting into an emotional space for the brand,” she explains. “Obviously, we still want to communicate the effectiveness of the product, but we felt like tackling that emotional component was important and it resonates with our audience. One thing that we learned from prior campaigns, even with other influencers, is that while they do a good job showcasing their own cultural experience, it’s hard to make a ripple in the public space in terms of destigmatizing the condition. We wanted to go bigger so that we could start to make strides in that direction.” 

Ramachandran still hopes that the campaign will lead some to visit abreva.com, noting the product’s effectiveness in eliminating cold sores in less than three days. Additionally, her main hope for “Confident B#@%! with a Cold Sore” is to encourage people to embrace a can-do attitude similar to McSweeney’s.

“[Cold sores] shouldn’t hold you back from living your life confidently, out loud and doing the things that you love,” she says. “If people see our campaign and they feel empowered to learn more about their condition and the best way to treat it so that they can go about their lives confidently, it has done its job.”

For a February 2024 article on Abreva’s diamond lips sweepstakes offering glam relief for cold sore woes, click here.