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Feel Better – Even Without Tylenol

We believe there are two key tests of meaningful marketing. The first is that it must be marketing that consumers choose to engage with. The second is that the marketing itself improves consumers’ lives. In this blog’s past several posts I believe I’ve covered the former pretty well; but I want to spend more time hitting the latter more often.

“Marketing itself improves consumers’ lives” is a pretty big test. It essentially says that the consumer can benefit from the brand without actually repaying it with a purchase. This can be a pretty big mental leap for marketers and their advertising agencies. An even bigger test, however, is when a brand uses marketing to improve consumers’ lives in such a way that it could decrease sales at the same time. Nutty, huh? Well, tell the Tylenol brand.

You have most likely noticed a flurry of marketing by Tylenol as part of its Feel Better campaign. It is appearing in TV, online,  print, and outdoor. While the reach of the campaign has probably hit your eyeballs dozens of times, you probably engaged attention because of its fairly revolutionary messages. You see, Tylenol’s advertising is telling consumers how to avoid headaches – in other words, how to avoid needing to take Tylenol at all.

A few examples are in the photo above. Bus stop ad headlines include: “Pass breakfast. You may go straight to a headache” and “Skipping meals can cause headaches.” A trip to leads to articles about other triggers of headaches, such as excessive noise, bright lights, and certain foods. Other Tylenol line extensions have followed the same path. Tylenol Cold formula advises that “Popsicles can soothe a sore throat.” Tylenol Arthritis Pain formula suggests that “Arthritic joints need strong muscles to protect them.”

I think Tylenol is in the lead of a new trend. Another brand that I’ve seen make progress on this line of meaning is Bank of America, which is featuring a campaign that teaches its customers how to avoid banking fees. Both brands realize that they are much better off by looking out for the customer first, and doing it in an obvious way that builds trust.

Long term (and all marketers should be in it for the long term), I believe this kind of investment in meaning will pay off. Tylenol knows that people will still have headaches or otherwise need pain relief, and since its active ingredient is exactly the same as the store brand but at a much higher price, this goodwill should translate to “loyalty beyond reason.” And Bank of America knows that it can make a lot more money by winning long-term, cross-sell business from its customers rather than screwing them on a $20 fee. Both brands are also using the programs to invite customers into a long-term relationship marketing program. By giving valuable information in this way, they will keep people coming back.

We may need to change our second meaningful marketing test to: “the marketing itself improves consumers’ lives - even at the expense of sales.

5 Responses to “Feel Better – Even Without Tylenol”

  1. Katy Landers says:

    Well said. As a marketer, it is very interesting to view Tylenol’s angle of promoting not only their brand but ways to avoid the root of the problem to begin with. Long-term will always win out. Keep up the good posts!

  2. doohan says:

    “the marketing itself improves consumers’ lives – even at the expense of sales”

    Bob, this time you may have gone too far! I think you need to add a qualifier or something like “even at the expense of *short term* sales”.

  3. Bob says:

    Good catch, Doohan! Short term sales is certainly what I meant. But even so, I doubt this really hurts sales for Tylenol. I’d love to see the research.

  4. carri says:

    What an interesting article. I do educational programming and when I look at companies to partner with I find the best stories are those that develop from brand managers, Presidents and CMO’s that really believe that they can make a difference in peoples lives. If they come across with passion to me, then I can relay to my board of directors and succeed in getting the product and story on our show. Don’t we all just want to help people in some way to lead better lives, and be able to make good money doing it?

  5. Bob says:

    Carri, you’re hitting on a very key point: that when brand managers and advertising agencies get to do this kind of meaningful work, we love our jobs more. As Jim Stengel might say, when our brands have purpose, we feel more purpose for ourselves as well.

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