The Prescription for Change – Taking on Finland's Pharma Monopoly


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Finland's pharmaceutical market has the strictest regulations within the EU. The sale of medicines, including over-the-counter drugs like cold medicines or painkillers, was restricted to privately-owned pharmacies. The brief was to challenge the monopoly by showcasing a more modern market for pharmaceutics and raising awareness about a complicated issue. The objective was to achieve change in legislation – without resorting to backdoor lobbying – freeing the pharmaceutics market for the benefit of the people.


Finland is know for its century-old monopoly in pharmacy market. All medicines, including, over-the-counter ones are only sold by private community pharmacies. While the pharmacies thrived, the costs were borne by families, the elderly, and the less fortunate.

The Finnish retail giant S Group, rooted in cooperative principles, was looking to dismantle the unjust pharmaceutics monopoly in Finland to make over-the-counter medicines more available and more affordable for everyone. We aided them in challenging the status quo through a transparent and highly visible lobbying effort aimed at changing legislation. During the 2023 Parliamentary election we didn't just preach our cause, but built a prototype experiential pharmacy right in the heart of Helsinki to showcase a vision of modern pharmacy equitable and accessible for all. Inside people. i.e. voters could browse the shelves and experience first-hand a different way of accessing medicines and then make informed choices by themselves.


Just lobbying behind the scenes could have reflect poorly to a retail giant like S Group especially given its heritage in cooperative principles. People respond better to transparent messaging and being able see and touch real alternatives rather than just hearing speeches or dealing with secretive lobbying. Our main message was to promote an alternative through the S Group's S Pharmacy. We aimed this message at both potential voters and politicians as the parliamentary elections approached. The centerpiece of our strategy was the S-branded mock-up pharmacy, where people could explore products and directly experience the freedom of improved medicine availability and affordability.


It all took place on 15 March 2023, over a month before the Finnish Parliamentary Elections, when the prototype S Pharmacy was set in the heart of Helsinki to showcase the possibilities of a monopoly-free pharmacy enabling people to browse products and experience another kind of market model in action. A national and global press release was issued that same morning, and distributed selectively to chosen journalists as well as a larger audience. It achieved significant attention in both Finland and abroad, for instance, in AdWeek.


The campaign was addressed by Finland's major media, including Finland's national public broadcast company YLE, and the biggest newspaper Helsingin Sanomat. It reached 3.1 million people on social media (60% of Finland's population) and resulted in 1.4 M more people supporting pharmacy market liberation. Also, public interest in pharmacy reform skyrocketed by a whopping 950%.

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