New agency, new approach: Tylenol remedy sees results

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Tylenol, a 28-year-old brand facing a serious set of competitors, is pushing through the pain of a turnaround effort that is starting to gain traction.

Last fall, Johnson & Johnson's McNeil Consumer and Specialty Pharmaceuticals division was faced with a conundrum: Its Tylenol product was still the market leader in analgesics and one of the most recognizable brand names in the country, yet sales were down and its ad campaigns weren't working.

So after spending the entire life span of Tylenol as an over-the-counter medication with Publicis Groupe's Saatchi & Saatchi, McNeil picked Interpublic Group of Cos.' Deutsch to work on the $100 million account after an extensive review. Changing agencies was one thing; changing mind-sets about using marketing tactics beyond paid advertising to reach consumer touch points the was the bigger challenge.

Tylenol sales were down 10.5% last year compared with 2002, according to Information Resources Inc., while sales of Wyeth's No.2 brand Advil were up 1.9%. That closed the gap between the two competitors to a 1.4% difference in market share.

But now, less than three months after the agency change, Tylenol believes it is turning around, thanks to its fresh approaches. McNeil reported a 23% growth in OTC pharmaceutical sales in the 2003 fourth quarter compared to 2002, although it was not clear how much of that gain came from Tylenol. The company also said the early flu season helped drive "exceptionally strong" growth in the Tylenol and Motrin brands.

Said one agency executive who worked on Tylenol business: "It's like teaching an old dog new tricks, but [McNeil is] completely receptive to the ideas. It's like the brand is becoming hip."

In addition to working with Deutsch, which is still crafting a spring debut for its first TV campaign and referred calls to McNeil, Tylenol is also working with another Interpublic shop, FutureBrand. (Jack Vogler, FutureBrand's head of consumer branding and packaging, could not be reached for comment.) The consultancy is redesigning the logo and packaging of the product, to be unveiled with Deutsch's ad campaign.

McNeil diversified its methods of presenting Tylenol and dumped any pre-conceived notions about marketing. Traditional media is still very much a part of the picture, but it's not the whole picture any longer.

"We have to evolve our brand with an evolving marketplace," said Eric Bruno, Tylenol franchise director, McNeil.

`Survivor' promotion

Tylenol's latest effort was a promotional tie-in with the hit series "Survivor: All-Stars" on Viacom's CBS called the "Tylenol Push Through the Pain" game. Each week, via online ballots, viewers choose the competitor whom they thought overcame physical and mental obstacles throughout the show. In addition, one viewer a week who votes online will be entered into a contest to receive a grand prize of attending the "Survivor" finale in Panama.

This comes on the heels of three other buzz-marketing efforts. Last November, Deutsch and Publicis' Zenith Media helped craft Tylenol's "Living Billboard" in New York's Times Square in conjunction with the New York City marathon. In December, Tylenol ran an insert in the alternative-music magazine The Fader based on recommendations from New York-based BrainReserve, headed by trend analyst Faith Popcorn. Last month, selected Sunday newspapers home-delivered across the country were wrapped in a colorful Tylenol 8-Hour ad that included a free sample.

"I like what I see so far," said one analyst. "They have an opportunity to continue to broaden their horizons when it comes to marketing."

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