Tylenol Goes Full-Eddie-Haskell

05 Nov Tylenol Goes Full-Eddie-Haskell

widget_avbd0xy6lgg4y2s8w2jfoj-resized-600.jpg“Our crappy medicine is unworthy of your glorious mouth.”

I was watching CNN on Sunday. I’m not proud of it. Often you can tell something about a network’s demographics by the ads they run. CNN was running — and I’m not making this up — ads for canes.


The Situation Room: #1 with octogenarians, the blind, and Busby Berkeley-style chorus dancers

Anyway, while pondering my cane options, I noticed something else: the ads were getting a little… self-denigrating.

And not in a fun Rodney Dangerfield kind of way, but in a borderline-creepy, we’re unworthy of breathing the same oxygen as you kind of way.

Here, for instance, is Tylenol’s new pay-off line: “For everything we do, we know you do so much more.”

What the heck kind of a value proposition is that?

It’s such forced, patronizing false-humility. And worst of all, it’s only pretending to be personalized. This is an ad delivered to millions of viewers. (Wait, it’s CNN.) This is an ad delivered to thousands of viewers, indiscriminately. And yet they’re contending they know something about me, the individual?

The idea of tailoring products to specific customers only works if you make some kind of meaningful segmentation. You can’t just say, Go Humans Go!


Yes, this was an actual campaign.

These absurd messages are everywhere now. Things like:

WristPro: the watch built for you.

If I were the CMO at WristPro, I would insist my marketing messages make sense, so I’d change that to:

WristPro: the watch built for you — Betty Kincaid — who lives at 437 Haverford Rd. — and you can go suck an egg Brian Flannigan who lives next door, because we could literally not care less about what you may think of our cheap, generic watches.

Here’s what I think is going on: We marketers don’t often learn lessons. But when we do learn a lesson, we almost always take it too far in the opposite direction.

So, when we learned to stop talking about features and start talking about benefits, everyone went: Oh, yeah, right, that makes sense!

But then we quickly perverted that into: Stop talking about your product at all, and only talk about your customers (which is how we got to the whole “we’re not selling anymore, we’re engaging with people” thing).

But we couldn’t even stop there, could we Tylenol? We had to take it a step further. Not just “you are important,” but now, “you are important, and we’re crap.”

Yes, we’ve corrected the problem of talking over our customers. But the needle’s swung too far the other way — straight to vacuous, sycophantic drivel (which is probably why they’ve got it airing during Blitzer).

What do others think about this? When you see an ad that says, “We built this car with you in mind,” how do you react? Do you do what I do — pop an Advil and hurl your cane at the TV?

And lest you think Tylenol holds the monopoly on bad marketing, just wait until you enter the terrifying world of B2B websites:


Jonathan Katz
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