Marketer's Brief: Tylenol Might Also Help Emotional Pain

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Welcome to the latest edition of Marketer's Brief, a quick take on marketing news, moves and trends from Ad Age's reporters and editors. Send tips/suggestions to [email protected]

There's a lot of joyful buzz in the air as marketers squeeze brand messages into the holiday season, or into one of the latest items in the Trump news cycle (see Tweet of the week, below). We'll take a look at some holiday shopping trends and what some might be spending their few leftover dollars on once January arrives. But first, here's a new perspective on an old medicine cabinet standby.

Tylenol  Credit: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg

Tylenol relieves emotional pain

Tylenol isn't just for physical aches and pains anymore: National Public Radio makes the case that it relieves a wide variety of emotional aches and pains too. A Monday NPR report cites research projects from the University of Kentucky, University of British Columbia and The Ohio State University among others, indicating that Tylenol can numb the sting of rejection, worries about mistakes you make, or tendencies to distrust people. But there are downsides, including diminished emotional empathy. It's pretty powerful stuff for an over-the-counter pain reliever. But Johnson & Johnson, while it has taken pains to make its advertising more emotional in recent years, isn't directly marketing Tylenol for its emotional benefits just yet.

Forget diamonds, an experience is forever

Appliances break and sweaters pill—memories of an experience, however, last forever. As retailers strategize with tighter inventory leading to sold-out merchandise, consumers are purchasing intangible gifts for their loved ones this holiday season. This year, roughly 40 percent of U.S. consumers plan to buy experiential gifts such as concert tickets, Murder Mystery dinners and fitness classes, according to a survey from market research firm NPD Group.

"Giving an intangible gift, an experience, can be more personal and more memorable for the gift recipient," said Marshal Cohen, chief industry analyst at NPD, in a statement. Nearly half of shoppers will gift a food or beverage experience, and 32 percent said they will give tickets to an event like a concert or sports game. Some 12 percent plan to buy interactive experiences like a Murder Mystery dinner or Escape the Room activity.

Personalization conundrum

Consumers want personalized marketing and shopping experiences made just for them—but they also don't want to give brands too much of their personal data, according to the annual Global Consumer Pulse Research report released Tuesday by Accenture Strategy. The study found that 49 percent of consumers are worried about data privacy, though 44 percent of shoppers are frustrated when they don't receive personalized shopping experiences tailored just to them. And retailers beware: 92 percent of shoppers said that it is "extremely important" marketers protect their personal information. At a time when fickle consumers are one click away from taking their retail dollars elsewhere, brands can't put a price-tag on privacy protection.

McDonald's $1 $2 $3 Dollar Menu hits participating U.S. restaurants Jan. 4, 2018.
McDonald's $1 $2 $3 Dollar Menu hits participating U.S. restaurants Jan. 4, 2018. Credit: McDonald's

McDonald's Spells Dollar 1-2-3

After two years of McPick 2, it's time for a new value slogan at McDonald's. The $1 $2 $3 Dollar Menu hits U.S. restaurants Jan. 4, 2018, with items including breakfast sandwiches, burgers, chicken and drinks. It includes some old standbys (hello, cheeseburgers and Happy Meals) as well as a new sandwich that the company has already labeled a classic: the Classic Chicken sandwich, which is white-meat buttermilk crispy chicken served on a toasted bun with pickles and the recently introduced Signature Sauce. Happy Meals have been discounted by some regions before, but this will be the first time the kids' meals (at $3) have been on a national value menu. No word yet on how We Are Unlimited plans to promote the new value play but a new agency CEO will be leading that charge starting slightly after the new menu hits.

Spreading the love of talking and snacking from the dreaded middle seat

With the, um, joy of holiday air travel on people's minds, Southwest Airlines and Ritz crackers tried making getting stuck in the middle seat a little more entertaining and engaging. The brands wanted to spark some conversations between the passengers, often strangers, sitting together in each row. For the Nov. 11 activation, flight attendants on the 5 p.m. flight from Chicago to Atlanta passed out a kit including games and Ritz crackers. People reacted, and filming began.

SWA's activation agency, 206Agency, helped with the concept and the video was created internally at Southwest. For Mondelez, it was a new way to promote one of its brands on a flight where the snack maker's products are often given out as snacks.

Unilever back in Manhattan with digital Hub

The days when Unilever, or forebear Lever Brothers, had a Manhattan headquarters are but a distant memory, though a restaurant at 390 Park Ave. called Casa Lever (and formerly Lever House), nods at the history. And since the company closed its Greenwich, Conn., office a decade ago, it's been harder for Manhattan-based employees to commute, what with no train service to offices in Englewood Cliffs, N.J. Some have at times worked out of Manhattan-based agencies, while others take company shuttle vans.

Now, Unilever is back in Manhattan with a "digital disruption center" dubbed "The Hub." Officially opened last month, The Hub will host Unilever digital projects, including voice programs; digitally focused brands such as recently launched customized skincare products subscription service Skinsei, and e-commerce efforts, said Alan Jope, president of Unilever Personal Care, at an investor presentation last week. The company recently listed several open positions at The Hub, including posts for digital-content strategists and e-commerce specialists.

Credit: Shmaltz Brewing

Would You Buy This?

The Next Generation Captain's Holiday 30th Anniversary Ale, from Shmaltz Brewing, for Trekkies old enough to drink.

Snickers/7-Eleven Hungerithm
Snickers/7-Eleven Hungerithm Credit: Snickers/7-Eleven

Number of the Week

$1.02: That was the value of a Snickers/7-Eleven coupon Tuesday afternoon. The discount fluctuates based on how people appear to feel on social media. When "hanger" rises (because hangry is what happens when hungry meets angry), so does the discount in the U.S. version of "Hungerithm (or, the hunger algorithm that says it monitors the mood online). This follows a similar campaign in Australia.

Tweet of the Week


Len Van Popering is now VP of global brand management and innovation at Subway, a new role at the chain encompassing food innovation, brand positioning, visual identity and channel development including delivery, catering and mobile ordering, reporting to CMO Joe Tripodi. Van Popering's prior roles include CMO of Logan's Roadhouse and SVP of marketing and product innovation at Arby's.

Contributing: Jessica Wohl, Jack Neff, Adrianne Pasquarelli, E.J. Schultz, George Slefo

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