November 5, 2007
An interesting article from the Wall Street Journal today, about how to market foul-tasting medicine:
Foul Taste Is Part of the Cure
Tout ‘Awful’ Flavor
Of Novartis Product
By JEANNE WHALEN
November 5, 2007; Page B4
When drug makers come out with new cough medicines, they typically tout characteristics such as extra strength or improved flavor. But when Novartis starts marketing a Canadian cough mixture in the U.S. today, it will focus on a different feature that it hopes will help the product stand out from the crowd: the medicine’s foul taste.
Made from camphor, pine needle oil, menthol and Canadian fir balsam gum, Buckley’s Cough Mixture has been available since 1919 in Canada, where it has become what Novartis calls the country’s “best-selling and worst-tasting” cough medicine. It doesn’t contain sugar or alcohol, which other brands use to dull the medicinal flavor.
Novartis, which bought the Buckley’s brand in 2002, hopes to convince consumers that the bad taste proves the syrup’s effectiveness. “It Tastes Awful. And it Works,” is the tagline of the television, print, radio and Internet ads designed by Publicis Groupe‘s Saatchi & Saatchi in New York.
The TV ads show blindfolded people undergoing a taste test. In one spot, a woman sips from cups marked “Buckley’s” and “Used Mouthwash” before asking someone off-camera, “Are they the same?” In another, a man tastes Buckley’s and “Public Restroom Puddle” and says, “I can’t tell. Must be made by the same people.” Other taste-testers try “Snail Trail Accumulation” and “Trash Bag Leakage.”
It’s a tough time to be unveiling a cough syrup. The $3.2 billion U.S. market for cough and cold medicines has been rocked by controversy in recent months as medical experts have questioned the safety of using the medicines in young children. On Oct. 19, a group of experts advising the Food and Drug Administration recommended that over-the-counter cough and cold medicines not be given to children younger than 6 years old, saying that there is no evidence the medicines work for that age group. The FDA must still decide whether to follow the panel’s advice and restrict use of the medicines in young children.
Jose Rodriguez, vice president of marketing for Novartis OTC North America, says the FDA deliberations haven’t affected Novartis’s plans for the rollout of Buckley’s, which won’t be marketed for children. Novartis, based in Basel, Switzerland, also sells Triaminic cough medicine, which is specifically aimed at children. As a precautionary measure, on Oct. 11 Novartis voluntarily withdrew from the market two Triaminic products aimed at infants. Other cough-medicine makers did the same.
|Buckley’s advertises its ‘disgusting taste’.|
Novartis gets most of its sales from prescription drugs but is trying to build its over-the-counter business as prescription-drug sales slow world-wide. In the U.S., Novartis is coming out with two Buckley’s products: a cough-suppressant mixture and a chest-congestion mixture. They will compete with Johnson & Johnson‘s Tylenol cough products, Wyeth‘s Robitussin and other over-the-counter brands. Buckley’s has been available in the New York metropolitan area in limited quantities in recent years, but this is the first time it is being launched nationally in the U.S.
Buckley’s will be aimed at adults seeking “tough love,” says Mr. Rodriguez. “We’re targeting people who don’t really care about taste.” Novartis wouldn’t disclose how much it is spending on the ad campaign but says it is “significantly more” than the company has spent on other over-the-counter products.
Tony Granger, chief creative officer for Saatchi & Saatchi in New York, says the agency wanted to differentiate Buckley’s from all of the cherry- and honey-flavored syrups on the market. “It’s kind of almost a category of candy,” he says.
In a radio spot, a recorded voice on a Buckley’s hotline asks callers to hold. “If you are inquiring about your cough mixture tasting like expired milk, trash-bag leakage, a postpedicure foot bath, a state fair porta-potty, decomposing meat fat, monkey sweat, used denture soak, New Jersey, or hippie-festival runoff, please hang up. Your cough will be gone shortly.” A print ad with a picture of the Buckley’s bottle declares the product “Disgustingly Effective.”
Ads on the Internet will ask consumers to try Buckley’s and send in pictures of the awful faces they make — motivating them with the chance to win an Alaskan vacation. Novartis is also posting its television ads on MySpace and YouTube, hoping the humor of the spots will help create buzz about the brand online.
Buckley’s has long poked fun at itself on Canadian airwaves, with taglines including: “People swear by it. And at it” and “Since 1919, we’ve been leaving Canadians with a bad taste in their mouths.”
Sometimes, the counter-intuitive message is the most effective one. We’d all like to have a maximum number of positive attributes to trumpet, but the fact is, when it comes to medicine, there is a widespread perception that it is OK for something to taste awful – that attribute is somehow correlated with effectiveness. The one area where this does not work, however: children’s medicines. Adults can tolerate the bad taste with the thought that good may come of it. Little ones will just spit it back out!